October 24, 2011

Hey man, smile now: your city has more women today

Women constitute a larger proportion of the population of Indian towns and cities today than has ever been recorded in Indian history. This startling fact is despite the child sex ratio (the number of girls for every 1,000 boys in the 0-6 age group) having fallen alarmingly in recent decades.

Data from the 2011 census reveals that the population of urban women grew at a brisk 34% in the decade spanning 2001 to 2011. In the same period, their rural population grew by just over 12%. As a result, the sex ratio for urban areas jumped from 900 women per 1,000 men in 2001 to 926 in 2011, the highest decadal increase since Independence. In rural areas, the sex ratio increased nominally from 946 to 947.

The sex ratio in urban areas has been rising since 1961, when it was 861, even as it dipped in rural areas from 963 in 1961 to 902 in 2011. But the past decade has seen the sharpest rise ever.

Increase or decrease in population in a particular area depends on several factors: the natural birth rate and in-migration increase it, while the death rate and out-migration decrease it. The net change in population depends on how these factors balance each other out.

In the case of urban areas, experts are puzzled by the ever-growing proportion of women. India has been experiencing an alarming decline in the child sex ratio over the past several decades. And this trend is more pronounced in towns and cities. This should have led to lowering the total female population. Between 1981 and 2011, the child sex ratio fell from 959 to 902 in urban areas and from 963 to 919 in rural areas. Yet the total female population is rising in urban areas. Had female feticide not been so widespread, the female population would have been even higher.

According to research by the Centre for Women's Development Studies, a Delhi-based research institution, the answer to this mystery may be in increased migration of women from rural to urban areas.

Census 2011 data on migration is yet to be released, but the last National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) report on migration covering the period 2007-08 shows a growing trend of migration to urban areas among women. Between 1999-2000 and 2007-08, female migration had gone up from 42% to 46%, even as male migration remained stagnant at about 26%.

Migration rates are higher among more educated and higher income women compared to their less privileged counterparts, according to the report. Over 56% of graduate women in urban areas were migrants compared to 47% of illiterate women. And, over 55% of women in the top 10% ranked by income groups had migrated to urban areas compared to just 35% of women in the bottom tenth.

Previous census data and NSSO reports indicate that the largest chunk of female migration is due to marriage, a characteristic of Indian society where the newly married woman shifts to the husband's home. About 61% of urban women migrants said that they migrated due to marriage, and another 29% said they moved along with their family or earning member, according to the latest NSSO report for the 64th round survey.

The Times of India