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Birth-Order-Sensitive Female Infanticide - Gtx0 ?>

Birth-Order-Sensitive Female Infanticide
Posted: Posted January 26th, 2019 by chiarizio
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See http://gtx0.com/merge/post/21765&highlight=birth+order+female+infanticide#21765 .

Imagine a human culture, in certain ways much like Henrician England, or more generally Renaissance Europe.

Suppose they practice birth-order-sensitive female infanticide.

What would or could that be like?

Maybe noöne wants or is expected to keep and raise a daughter until they have a son.

Maybe there’s also a rule that noöne should keep a second daughter until they have a second son.
Or maybe that second rule applies only to aristocratic or landed or noble or rich or titled families.
Maybe there’s just no such rule for middle-class-and-lower commoners; or maybe all or some middle-class commoners instead follow a rule not to keep a third daughter until they have a second son.

I don’t see the point in a rule that one shouldn’t keep and raise a third daughter until one has a third son. Maybe there is such a rule, but maybe it’s slightly relaxed, to say one shouldn’t keep and raise a fourth (fifth?) daughter until one has a third son.

Possibly there are limits to how often a parent might commit infanticide.
Maybe (nearly) everyone would, with increasing reluctance, obey the rule up to three times, if necessary. Maybe about half of the parents would refuse to commit infanticide a fourth time; but the other half would (reluctantly) go along with the rule a fourth time, if necessary. Maybe nobody would obey the rule a fifth time.

————— ————— ————— ————— —————

More later, maybe. I have the feeling I had another train of thought to pursue, but I can’t be sure I really did.

There are 11 Replies
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See http://gtx0.com/merge/post/21805#21805 .

Residence patterns can influence parents’ preference for one sex of child rather than the other — sons over daughters or vice-versa.
If only sons can inherit; and all sons remain living on and working on their family’s property even after marriage; and heirs remain living in their parents’ house even after marriage; then sons, especially the heir (the first son in the case of male primogeniture, the youngest son in the case of male ultimogeniture, or the second son in the case of male secundogeniture),
contribute to their parents’ security against old age.

In contrast to the various hypothetical (fictional?) patterns of birth-order-sensitive female infanticide I described above in previous posts to this thread, where a girl baby wouldn’t be kept and cared for and raised unless she had more older brothers than older sisters; real-life female infanticide seems to fall most heavily on later-born daughters, rather than earlier-born daughters. Apparently it is rare for the firstborn daughter to be aborted or killed or neglected or abandoned.

Like my hypotheses, however, it seems the higher-caste the family is, the more prone to female infanticide or “foeticide” (i.e. selective abortion) or “indirect infanticide” (i.e. neglect or abandonment) they are likely to be. Untouchables’ only capital asset is their labor, and a girl’s labor is still valuable. (Which does not at all make Harijan families paragons of sexual equality!). Any land-owning family might feel pressure to at least invest more parental care and attention in their sons than in their daughters. Other castes, who do own capital, but not land, often also feel such pressure, but less so than the land-owning classes.
Strangely (or, at least, it struck me as strange), land-owning upper-caste families, including mothers, don’t feel that two sons is enough sons to feel secure. It seems a large majority want also a third son, and either a majority or a significantly large minority want a fourth son. (If I’m wrong, I welcome correction! Especially with a citation! Especially especially with a citation available online!)
The fewer sons a mother has, and the more daughters she has, the less she will want another daughter. This can lead to a situation in which a woman with two or three sons and one or two daughters, aborts or kills three or four or more girl babies consecutively, in an effort to bear a third or fourth son. If she doesn’t want to do the deed, her relatives may force her, or commit the act themselves.

Regardless of any preference for sons over daughters, people of limited means regard multiple births as unlucky. (I assume triplets or more are considered especially unlucky, but I haven’t read any academic studies about that.) Responses in poor or technologically-disadvantaged societies range through:
  • just pitying the family for their bad luck;
  • killing or abandoning one of the twins;
  • killing both of the twins;
  • killing both of the twins and their mother.

    People of limited means sometimes also won’t raise a baby born while an older sibling is still suckling.

    In places where sons are markedly preferred over daughters, daughters are often weaned earlier than sons. Also, there’s less time between a daughter’s birth and the next pregnancy, than between a son’s birth and the next pregnancy.

    China’s one-child policy led to a major uptick in female infanticide. Since they allowed three children for rural families, or four if the first three were all daughters, it’s clear female infanticide was not a rural-only problem.

    The availability of ultrasonograms capable of determining a fetus’s gender before birth, led to increasing sex-selective abortions in various parts of India, rural and urban. Unfortunately possessing modern equipment doesn’t mean you’re doing it right. ObGyns and Radiologists untrained in ultrasonography have tried to use it on conceptuses younger than 16 weeks, instead of waiting until after the 18th week like they should. So their advice has resulted in the abortion of male babies by error. Amniocentesis seems to be less popular than ultrasonography.
    Existence of high-tech ways to prenatally determine the sex of the baby, coexists with very low-tech and unsafe methods of abortion, such as beating the mother until she miscarries.

    Telling that the mother is pregnant with twins or more, is lower-tech than determining the unborn baby’s sex. Women may selectively abort twins.

    For some reason the news has not spread that the baby’s sex is determined by the father’s sperm rather than by anything to do with the mother. Women continue to get blamed for having too many girls and not enough boys. Men may take a second wife, and even also divorce their first wife, if she hasn’t borne a son, or not enough sons, or not soon enough; or has borne too many daughters, or for too long. (Thus acting like Henry VIII Tudor.) And a woman’s mother-in-law may pressure her son to divorce her (the woman) if she (the mother-in-law) finds out she (the daughter-in-law) is pregnant with twin girls.

    There are two safe and economical technologies available in rural India to end the risk of further pregnancies; both have to do with tubes. A woman can have her Fallopian tubes ligated (tied), or a man can have his vas deferens clipped or tied or blocked. Although men may be just as tired of having more daughters, or more children generally, as women, for some reason tubal ligations outnumber vasectomies by about 60 to 1.
    Women usually undergo voluntary sterilization upon the birth of their last son; that is, as soon as they think they have enough sons. This means that the sex-ratio of sons to daughters among lastborn children, is quite unnaturally high. (Except among Dalits.)


    In my two oldest concultures, Adpihi and its descendant Reptigan, land and fixed assets tend to belong to the “milkhouse”, the matriclan. Or at least that was so thru Early Reptigan; it might not be true anymore by Middle Reptigan.
    So if a (almost necessarily female!) landholder wants an heir(ess), she wants a daughter, though she may be satisfied with a sister’s daughter. I imagine she’d want at least two, to be safe.

    Fixed assets might not be that big a deal in Early Adpihi. Earning a living might be something a man has to do “on the move”, for the most part, up through Middle Adpihi. So portable goods and equipment, and maybe later or maybe to a lesser extent livestock and rolling stock, might get passed father-to-son. They’ll be the property of the “bloodpath”, the patriclan. A man who wants an heir will want a son; tho’ he might be satisfied with a brother’s son. To feel secure he’d probably want two.
    Beginning in Middle Adpihi, and growing to be dominant by “late” Late Adpihi, and continuing at least thru “late” Middle or “early” Late Reptigan, the entrepreneurial way of living will grow common. When this happens a testator’s wealth is likely to be mostly capital which can be divided equally among his or her heirs. Though that won’t be true of factories or farms or other productive land or dairies or residences owned by “milk-houses”.

    Magical power (if people believe in it), (maybe rolling stock? or maybe not?), intellectual property such as trademarks, service marks, copyrights, patents, works of art, and clothes and textiles, and some of the equipment for making them, are the property of the “robe”, that is, the alternating descent-group. A male owner’s heirs will be his daughters; a female owner’s heirs will be her sons. While many of these items won’t be truly divisible, it will be possible in many cases to divide ownership of the items into shares, and distribute the shares to more than one heir.

    A grandfather will consider both his sons’ sons and his daughters’ sons as potential heirs. He’ll probably want at least two of each.
    A grandmother will consider both her daughters’ daughters and her sons’ daughters as potential heirs. She’ll probably want at least two of each.

    Beginning in Early Reptigan there will begin awareness that overpopulation might be a problem, and that returning to space might be a good idea and a possibility. In Middle Reptigan steps will be actively taken.

    They’ll have made several missions to their planet’s satellite, and will be planning colonies on their nearest, nearest-to-inhabitable, neighboring planets in their star’s system. There’ll also be talk about “O’Neill” colonies in the satellite’s L4 and L5 Lagrangian libration points.

    In Middle and Late Reptigan, laws limiting the numbers of children, sons, daughters, grandchildren, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandchildren, great-grandsons, and great-granddaughters, will be enacted and enforced. Means will be set up to straiten or loosen these limits as it becomes appropriate to do so.
    Late Reptigan parents will be able to select the sex of their offspring before conception. They’ll probably also be able to decide whether they want a single birth, or twins. What they want may depend on what the laws are at the time; and how many of which kind of children their siblings have; and other things I might work out.


    The need for infanticide will be regarded as a tragedy. It should become less and less common on Adpihi as its history advances, and have pretty much disappeared by Late Adpihi, before Reptigan even starts. But, as Reptigan begins colonizing space, it may show up again in the off-Adpihi colonies, due to misfortunes.


    Whatcha think?

  • Edited June 14th, 2019 by chiarizio
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    One thought I had:

    Childbirth has historically been the #1 reason for death among women. And similarly, a culture might put more interest into the first child a couple keeps being a male, and maybe even try for a second boy, but if they want to keep their numbers stable or grow, I don't think they would want to kill any daughters after the second boy, and might not kill any children after the first boy if they have the resources to feed and care for them all.

    If however, they are a culture that needs to keep their population low for some reason, or do not have the resources to have a lot of children, they might preferentially keep the boys or even only try to have one daughter.

    Although if it got to an extreme of that, they might try for a girl first, and then only keep boys after that.

    Any thoughts about this? Places where my logic doesn't really follow?

    Posted January 31st, 2019 by bloodb4roses
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    @bb4r, I don’t know why what seems perfectly logical to me doesn’t match what seems to actually happen in the real world.
    For instance, what you just posted seems perfectly logical to me. But ...

    OTOH your ideas seem good for constructed cultures and built worlds!

    BTW thanks bigly for your thoughtful reply!

    Edited February 1st, 2019 by chiarizio
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    @chiarizio well, most cultures are patrilineal and most cultures have wanted their numbers to grow as much as possible because food and resource production scaled with population growth. Or at least, that they expected that many children would die before adulthood let alone having kids of their own, and wanted to be certain the population would stay stable. So I think at least some of these aspects make female infanticide and especially infanticide of girls until one or two boys have been born.

    Things would be very different in a culture where they are matrilineal and strongly matriarchal, at their carrying capacity, and where food and resources were fixed or grew slower than the culture could if left unchecked.

    Posted February 2nd, 2019 by linguistcat
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    Other things being equal, female mortality limits population growth more than male mortality. If there’s too many of something it’s the girls you have to kill.

    But a lot of the others things you said are right on.

    Posted February 2nd, 2019 by chiarizio
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    I really mean that I think it's a balancing act between cultural values (boys vs girls being "more important") and biological one (needing high population growth vs staying stable or a least minimizing growth). Both of those interact, and especially when both are extreme, you can get some odd combos.

    Posted February 3rd, 2019 by linguistcat
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    I understand (I think) and agree (if I understand correctly).
    You’re probably right even if I misunderstand.


    Resources such as food probably grow linearly according to Bishop Thomas Malthus; at best, on a two-dimensional surface, they could grow quadratically in extreme circumstances, but no faster.

    Population, if unchecked, could grow exponentially (as Malthus pointed out). Eventually that would overwhelm the carrying capacity of any finite-dimensional living space, even if resources could grow (say) cubically instead of quadratically.


    I think if you went into a city or county or state and murdered half the men of every age-group, but left the women alone, the population would recover in a generation.

    But if instead you murdered half the women of childbearing age, but left the subadult girls and the old women and the men and boys alone, it would take them more than one generation to recover. But it would take less than two, is my guess.

    If you murdered half the women of childbearing age, and also half the subadult girls, but left the men and the postmenopausal women, they’d need more than two generations to recover. But not more than three.


    If, as in the NorthWestern Indian Hindu societies I recently read about (and mentioned on gtx0), “worth” was thought of in terms of “who will care for me when I’m old?”, the worth of daughters might exceed the worth of sons, if the custom was for sons to move out and away, but for daughters to remain near and/or for one daughter to stay in the house.
    If the daughter who stays is always the oldest, the worth of a daughter with many older sisters might be discounted; even to being worth less than a son, especially if younger daughters were expected to not only leave the house, but to even leave the neighbourhood.
    But if the custom were for the youngest daughter to stay in the house, and take care of her aged parents until both were disabled or one were deceased, I think all daughters would be welcome, up to the point the parents just couldn’t afford to raise another one.

    But, hell, that’s a guess!

    And I’m not sure on what basis societies value or discount daughters w.r.t. sons anyway.


    I think a nomadic society is likelier to be patrilineal than matrilineal.

    I think most matrilineal societies are settled rather than wandering.

    Am I wrong?
    ‘Cause I don’t have any citations; so I might be wrong!

    Edited February 3rd, 2019 by chiarizio
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    I think a nomadic society is likelier to be patrilineal than matrilineal.

    I think most matrilineal societies are settled rather than wandering.

    Am I wrong?
    ‘Cause I don’t have any citations; so I might be wrong!

    I know you said you don't have citations, so I'd just like to know, independent of what might actually happen, what is your logic behind this?

    I'd think it would be the reverse: They would be matrilineal if they are nomadic and patrilineal if settled (with some exceptions of course). Matrilines are much easier to follow, at least among mammals like us. You know who your mother is, except in circumstances like being a "foundling" where neither parent is known. Even for non-mammals, I'm sure most species would be able to be pretty certain about who their mother is simply because you came from her nest. The only time this would not be true is in a species where males make and care for the nest by themselves and more than one female would lay their eggs there if they like him. Even in the case that the nest is cared for by a pair, or a female wouldn't choose a male who has eggs to care for already, your matriline is easier to trace than your patriline, and if you're always moving around or settled for part of the year, move, then are settled somewhere else for the rest, it's still easier to know for certain that your mother is your mother than that your mother's mate/husband/consort/etc is your father.

    When it becomes easier to track your patriline is when people settle down in one spot especially in cultures where one man has one or many wives who are unrelated to other wives, but women do not marry husbands who are unrelated to each other OR when sets of brothers (with the same patriline) commonly marry sets of sisters (with their own shared patriline).

    If anything I'd think matrilines were more common when humans were primarily hunter gatherers and or at least semi-nomadic. Of course I'll have to look into things more and see what theories we have about this.

    As far as infanticide, especially depending on birth order, I don't think any culture would want too high of an imbalance in the sexes unless there were drastic reasons for it, so after one or two of the "preferred sex" they wouldn't want to kill more children if possible. The one culture I've heard is supposedly "matriarchal" is also polyandrous and semi-nomadic, and they live somewhere that having more people doesn't always mean more food, but they seem to prefer to just space out births rather than leave or kill a child already born. I never seem to find mention of them and now I can't remember the name, but I might base Danpyr social structure loosely on this (with the added complication of having 2 "male" sexes).

    Posted February 3rd, 2019 by linguistcat
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    Did I respond satisfactorily to all your posts in this thread?
    Or do you have any additional observations, or questions, or research discoveries?

    Posted February 26th, 2019 by chiarizio
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    Did I respond satisfactorily to all your posts in this thread?

    Or do you have any additional observations, or questions, or research discoveries?

    @chiarizio I think you have, with the exception of if you have anything to add or discuss stemming from my last post. I don't have anything else to add myself, or any new thoughts currently.

    Posted March 9th, 2019 by linguistcat
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