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Mass layoffs, layoff the boys.

Written By: - Date published: 3:00 pm, December 22nd, 2009 - 6 comments
Categories: abortion, science - Tags:

There are always consequences to the type of mass unemployment that we’re starting to see in NZ at present. However there looks like being an unexpected one. Spontaneous abortion of male fetuses as a response to mass layoffs.

The Economist science section has an article “Girls on top” that discusses this.

According to Ralph Catalano of the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues, writing in the American Journal of Human Biology, stress-induced sex selection can take place long after conception and implantation.

Famines being rare in America these days, Dr Catalano and his colleagues used unemployment as their stressful event. They studied the birth records of the state of California from April 1995 to December 2007, and compared these with the number of new claims for unemployment insurance. Based on hints from earlier work, they looked specifically at unemployment claims that had wider social resonance than the firing of a few individuals—namely those in which an employer sacked 50 workers or more in one go. These mass lay-offs, it might be hypothesised, are more like natural catastrophes, such as famines, than isolated accidents that cause a few people to fall on hard times.

The researchers discovered that mass lay-offs did, indeed, lead to fewer boys being born. Over the whole period 52.4% of births were of boys. In some months, though, that fell as low as 51.2%. Teasing out the statistics suggested that the stress of mass lay-offs probably caused these drops, but that the lay-offs in question could happen months after conception. Male fetuses were, in other words, being spontaneously aborted—presumably as a consequence of stress.

It is a small effect, but bearing in mind the propensity of males to die before reproducing themselves, it could cause significiant shifts in the population balances. Of course this effect would probably be less in NZ because we have less severe effects from unemployment due to a functioning welfare state reducing stress levels.

This effect could explain some of the aberrations that show up in societies with less of a cushion. On the other hand the rate of non-spontaneous abortions would probably increase in countries as people make conscious rather than unconscious decisions to reduce stress. It should also provide another focus for the anti-abortion lobby to reduce abortion rates. Maybe they should start concentrating on economic circumstances.

6 comments on “Mass layoffs, layoff the boys. ”

  1. Gosman 1

    Kind of a long bow to pull there expecting the Anti-Abortion lobby to take into account economic situations don’t you think?

    If memory serves me correctly they tend to focus on someone making a conscious decision to terminate rather than natural process.

    • lprent 1.1

      Of course it is a long bow… But if their concern for human life is what they say it is, then they should be concerned about anything that induces abortions.

      The conscious decisions to abort are usually based on stress related argument as well. Why should you be penalizing someone for doing something consciously when their body is doing it unconsciously. In effect they are targeting someone for being in touch with their body.

      It does sort of remove the argument from morality to biology.

  2. Marcus 2

    That’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard all day. So because (according to this research) woman’s bodies sometimes abort male foetus because of mass lay offs, its suddenly not a moral choice when they choose to do have an abortion, but a biological one???

    • Gosman 2.1

      I suppose his position is similar to arguing that the Catholic church should worry about the natural causes of seminal build up due to it being occassionally released involuntarily during sleep because they are opposed to Masturbation.

    • Pascal's bookie 2.2

      Mass layoffs aren’t things that just happen Marcus.

      If the church’s position wasn’t more about women’s sexuality than it is about being ‘pro-life’, then why would it matter what the cause of the abortion was?

  3. Olwyn 3

    It is said that the boy/girl balance is shifting toward girls throughout the Western world, and two factors that are being considered are stress and pollution:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/pollution-where-have-all-the-baby-boys-gone-472477.html

    And I have long thought that the church should focus on the social preconditions of abortion, whether spontaneous or induced.

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