The Myth of the Disappearing Man

13 Sep

A common observation has been noted by almost every Beninese person I’ve talked to throughout my research process.  Men and women, students and professors, research participants and random people on the street have all agreed that women are surpassing men as a percentage of the Beninese population at an alarming rate.

A frequently quoted statistic is that for every 10 children born in Benin, as many as 8 may be girls.  

Setting aside the dubious wording of this statistic, let’s talk about the variety of implications I have heard:

  • For a man to take only one wife would be unfair or even just plain wrong, given the masses of women who would then be relegated to the horrific fate of life without a husband. 
  • Women agree to be second or third wives, or mistresses to married men, because the gender imbalance leaves them with a scarcity of marriageable prospects.
  • Less emphasis should be placed on women’s empowerment, women’s rights, women’s entrepreneurship, etc. because men are in fact the threatened minority.  (I should be studying the sexual harassment of men, for example.) Although here it should be noted that the women’s empowerment movement in Benin takes the form of affirmative action policies, and the backlash is more against these policies that about putting women down, per say.

I found this 2:8 gender ratio, which works out to 0.25 males born for every female, absolutely incredulous.  But everyone was so insistent that scientific research backed up their claims, I decided to do a little investigating for myself.

According to the CIA World Factbook (United States, 2012 Edition), there are 1.05 males born for every female in Benin.  This means that on average, if 105 boys are born in a village in a year, 100 girls are born.

The World Bank’s World Development Report (2012 Edition) confirmed similar results, at 1.04 males per females at birth.  Humans naturally give birth to males at slightly higher rates than females.

Ok, so what about after birth?  CIA researchers found that in the under 15 year old population, there was a 1.04 male to female ratio. So again, more boys than girls.

Between the ages of 15 and 64 years old, the ratio begins to shift. 0.99 males to females, meaning very slightly more women than men.  99 men to every 100 woman.  And over age 65, there is a 0.69 male to female ratio.  

It is well-known that women live longer than men.  Men are more likely to be killed as the result of violent incidences such as homocides and warfare, and tend to die younger than women due to heart attacks and strokes.  Therefore there are virtually always more women than men among the elderly.  Although there is no further breakdown of the statistics available, I suspect that if the 15 to 64 age range were split into 15 to 49 and 50 to 64, it would be the preponderance of 50+ age women that tips the balance.  

As for the overall population, the CIA calculated an even 1:1 gender ratio in Benin. 1.00 men to each woman.  

Now let’s face it. People are not referring to elderly women when they talk about second wives and mistresses.  Something is not adding up.

The myth of the disappearing man conveniently justifies polygamy and male infidelity, while propagating the image of the chaste, loyal female. If there are so many more women than men, men can have multiple partners who are each loyal to him alone.  

But if the vast majority of men have multiple partners, and the gender ratio is equal, something is not adding up.  Society must seriously reflect on this reality as it questions the institution of polygamy in the 21st century.  

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