“A Surplus of Men, A Deficit of Peace” by
Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea Den Boer, in International Security (Spring 2002), MIT Press
Journals, 5 Cambridge Center, 4th Fl., Cambridge, Mass.
In medieval Portugal, only the firstborn sons of
noblemen could inherit land and property, depriving their younger brothers
not only of wealth but any possibility of marriage. These solo
“cadets” were a cause of turmoil at home and the fuel for
Portugal’s vigorous imperial expansion abroad. By the mid-16th
century, almost 25 percent of Portugal’s male nobles were dying in
battle—which may not have entirely displeased Portugal’s
monarchs, who were trying to maintain stability at home.
Hudson, a political scientist at Brigham Young
University, and Den Boer, a doctoral student at the University of Kent at
Canterbury in Britain, fear there’s a parallel between the Portuguese
past and present-day developments in China and India, where sex-determined
abortions and female infanticide have produced an unnatural surplus of
young men. China, with a total population of 1.3 billion, has 13 million
more males than females in the 15–34 age group, while India, with a
total population of one billion, has an oversupply of nearly 16 million.
The surpluses will roughly double by 2020, Hudson and Den Boer project.
These unattached men pose at least as great a
threat—probably greater—to domestic tranquility as the
Portuguese cadets did and increase the danger of international conflict.
“In a marriage market where women are scarce and thus able to
"text4">” the authors write, the “surplus” young men will
be societal “losers”—likely “to come from the
lowest socioeconomic class” and to be rootless transients, unemployed
or underemployed. In other words, they are doubly prone to vice and
Hudson and Den Boer believe there’s a
relationship between violence against women within a society and violence
“within and between” societies. “Exaggerated gender
inequality,” they argue, leads to heightened internal instability.
Even if begun now, efforts to reduce female infanticide
and abortion for sex selection would not right the gender imbalance
“for a generation or more.” Hudson and Den Boer worry that the
problem may undermine democracy in India and halt its progress in China.
class="text80">There’s some evidence that the regimes in both
countries are already resorting to some of the time-honored means of
thinning the ranks of violence-prone young men: recruiting them into police
or military units, involving them in massive and dangerous public-works
projects, and dispatching them overseas as colonists or migrant
workers. Beijing, for example, is expanding its People’s Armed Police
and filling its ranks with what one observer calls “the dregs.” Or, like the monarchs of 16th-century Portugal, the two governments may be
tempted to send their surplus young men abroad “to die in some
glorious national cause far from home.”