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Sex Ratio at Birth: NFHS & SRS reports present different numbers across States


Data from the recently published NFHS-5 report indicates that the All-India sex ratio crossed 1000 for the first time. Data also indicates an improvement in sex ratio at birth. However, the SRS reports present different numbers. Here is a review of this divergence. 

The key findings of Phase-II of the fifth edition of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), covering 14 states/UTs were released recently by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare. The findings of NFHS-5 in respect of 22 States & UTs covered in Phase-I were released in December 2020. The second phase of the survey, covering the states of Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, and others was held during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey is significant as it provides some of the most critical information on the demographic, health, nutrition, and socio-economic status of people in the country. The findings of the survey help in monitoring the progress, ascertaining the progress with respect to the Sustainable Development Goals, identification of the areas that require intervention, and in decision-making & policy formulation. 

For the first time, the number of women is more than the number of men, according to NFHS-5

Numerous media reports have stated that the findings of the survey point towards a demographic shift in India. This is because, for the first time in the country, ever since the NFHS survey exercise began in 1992, the proportion of women in the country was higher than that of men. The sex ratio is defined as the number of females per 1000 males in the population. For every 1000 men, there were 1,020 women at an All-India level, as per the findings of NFHS-5. The sample size of the NFHS 5 survey is 6.1 lakh households. 

The ratio is an important social indicator that helps measure the extent of prevailing equity between males and females in a society at a given point in time. According to NFHS-5, the sex ratio was more than 1000 in 23 states and UTs. In other words, there were more women than men in these 23 states while the sex ratio was below 950 in 6 states/UTs including Delhi, Punjab, and Haryana. As per NFHS-4 carried out in 2015-16, the All-India sex ratio was 991. A total of 18 states/UTs had a sex ratio of more than 1000 in the previous survey while Haryana and Delhi reported a sex ratio of less than 900 in NFHS-4. 

The sex ratio has increased by 29 points from NFHS-4

Compared to NFHS-4, the sex ratio has increased by 29 points in a period of around 5 years. Across states, this difference in sex ratio varies by 165 points in Lakshadweep, 72 points in Kerala, and more than 50 points each in Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Delhi. On the other hand, the sex ratio fell by 38 points in Himachal Pradesh, while in Ladakh and Kashmir, the sex ratio fell by 29 and 23 points respectively. 

TFR has dropped to below replacement level

Another important finding from the NFHS-5 is about the Total Fertility Rate (TFR). TFR is defined as the average number of children that would be born to a woman if she experiences the current fertility pattern throughout her reproductive span (15-49 years). 

As per NFHS-5, the All-India TFR reduced from 2.2 to 2.0 which is below the replacement level of 2.1. This is because, a TFR of less than 2.1 implies that a woman has an average of two children over a lifetime and that the existing generation of people will get replaced over the years, without any substantial increase in population. If the Fertility rate further declines, the population will also decline over years. Despite the reduced TFR, the child sex ratio indicates that the probability of survival of a male child is more than the female. 

Sex ratio at birth improved from 919 in NFHS-4 to 929 in NFHS-5

The sex ratio at birth is the number of females per 1,000 males born in the last five years. This is a very vital indicator to understand the underlying abnormalities which are leading to an imbalanced sex ratio. If the sex ratio at birth improves, then it would surely lead to an increase in the overall sex ratio in each age group. As per NFHS-5, the sex ratio at birth has improved from 919 in NFHS-4 to 929 in NFHS-5, an increase of 10 points. Except for Tripura, Ladakh, and Lakshadweep, all states and UTs have a child sex ratio of less than 1000. 

The difference in sex ratio at birth in NFHS-4 & NFHS-5 reveals a huge difference

Comparison of the sex ratio at birth in NFHS-4 & NFHS-5 reveals a huge difference across states. Delhi has reported improvement in the child sex ratio from 812 to 923, an increase of 111 points. The sex ratio at birth in Ladakh, Lakshadweep, Sikkim, and Puducherry have also increased by more than 100 points. In Kerala, the ratio fell by 96 points and in Tamil Nadu by 76 points.

The sex ratio at birth has gone up by only 1 point as per SRS 

While there is a significant increase in sex ratio at birth between NFHS-4 & NFHS-5, the findings of the Sample Registration Survey (SRS) reveal a different trend. The SRS is a dual record system. Continuous registration and half-yearly retrospective surveys are conducted and are matched & corrected. SRS (2016-18) is the latest report, the sample of which covered 8847 units that had a total population of over 80 lakhs. According to SRS (2016-18), the sex ratio at birth was 899, up only 1 point from 898 reported in SRS (2014-16).  

The magnitude of difference within states is much lower in SRS than in NFHS

Across major states, the sex ratio at birth ranges from 840 females in Uttarakhand to 958 females in Chhattisgarh per 1000 males, as per SRS (2016-18). Among states, the difference reported in the 2 years between SRS (2014-16) & SRS (2016-18) ranges from an increase in sex ratio at birth by 29 points in Assam and 21 points in Jammu & Kashmir to a fall of 13 and 15 points respectively in Odisha and Delhi. The magnitude of difference in sex ratio at birth for states is lower in SRS as compared to NFHS. However, both NFHS and SRS have pointed towards a decline in sex ratio at birth in Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Odisha, and Bihar whereas an improvement was witnessed in West Bengal, Assam, Jammu & Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Haryana. 

On the other hand, both the reports show different trends in Karnataka, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Maharashtra, UP, HP, Delhi, and Uttarakhand. For instance, in Delhi, the ratio improved by 111 points as per NFHS while it fell by 13 points as per SRS. 

NFHS findings are only indicative

The numbers presented in the NFHS reports are the results of the survey conducted in around 6.1 lakh sample households from 707 districts of the country that covered over 7.24 lakh women and 1.02 lakh men. While the findings provide important insights, the numbers are only indicative since they are based on a sample and not on the entire population. While the sex ratio crossing 1000 is an important milestone, it may not represent the actual picture on the ground. 

Furthermore, the figures are based on the number of males and females who were present in the household on the last night of the survey. On the other hand, the SRS findings based on a larger sample size show a lower difference in the sex ratio.

Census-2021 will provide more reliable data

The decadal Census is the most reliable source of demographic details of the population since it involves the collection of data from each and every household.  As per Census 2001 and 2011, the sex ratio in the country has improved from 933 to 940 (by 7 points in 10 years) while the Child sex ratio dropped from 927 to 919 (by 8 points), the lowest since Independence. While there could be an improvement on both these indicators in Census-2021considering the increasing awareness and numerous campaigns & schemes launched in the last decade. However, one must wait till the Census 2021 results are published to know the real picture.  Till then, the NFHS findings & any future SRS report are the only latest data available. 

Featured Image: Sex Ratio at Birth


About Author

A bachelor’s degree in mathematics and master’s in social science, she is driven by ardent desire to work with this unique combination to create her own path instead of following the herd. Having served a stint as the college union chairperson, she is a strategist who is also passionate about nature conservation, art and loves solving Sudoku.

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