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Sex-selective abortion: a systematic map of the volume and nature of research

What do we want to know?

This report takes the form of a systematic map examining the volume and nature of research concerning sex-selective abortion. The map is not intended to supply an answer to the question ‘What is the extent of sex-selective abortion in England, Wales and Scotland?’ Rather, the aim is to describe the volume and key characteristics of research in this area, i.e., to identify and describe the research that has been carried out.  

What did we find?

A sizeable international literature in relation to sex-selective abortion was found, totalling 332 studies. The country of focus was India in almost half (153) of these studies, China in 79 studies (24%), and Asia (not including India, China or Pakistan) in 37 (11%) of studies.  OECD countries were examined in 23 (7%) reports of 20 relevant studies (four secondary, linked reports of existing analyses were identified). Six unique studies focused upon populations within the UK, five the US, four Canada, two Greece, two Norway and one Italy.  The extent of sex-selective abortion taking place in a population was often assessed by examining the sex ratio at birth (SRB) – the number of boys born alive per 100 girls born alive. The research in this map appeared to examine relatively few confounders or moderators of the SRB, although this is likely to be due to the constraints imposed by analysis of pre-existing datasets.

How did we get these results?

Empirical, quantitative, English-language research focused upon sex-selective abortion and published from the year 2000 onwards was sought via bibliographic database and citation searching.

What are the implications?

To the extent that it is possible, future research should give further consideration to important confounders such as socio-economic status, marital status, birth order, parity and parental age. Future research might also be situated within the context of alternative explanations for perturbations and prevailing trends in the SRB.  In order to establish the extent to which sex-selective abortion is taking place in contexts relevant to the UK, studies would have to be subjected to critical appraisal to assess the reliability of their findings. Where results are robust but inconsistent, examination of the scope of the studies and the specification of their analytical models would be required in order to explain mixed and conflicting findings.

This report should be cited as:

Caird J, Brunton G, Stokes G, Hinds K, Dickson K, Richardson M, Khatwa M, Thomas J (2015) Sex-selective abortion: a systematic map of the volume and nature of research. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education, University College London.

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