Hepatitis B prefers boys; Asian misogynocide half as horrific as before

Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt in Slate: The Search for 100 Million Missing Women - An economics detective story.

Convinced now of the relationship between hepatitis B and birth gender, [Harvard economics graduate student Emily] Oster set out on a vast data mission to determine the magnitude of that relationship. She measured the incidence of hepatitis B in the populations of China, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Bangladesh, and other countries where mothers gave birth to an unnaturally high number of boys. Sure enough, the regions with the most hepatitis B were the regions with the most "missing" women. Except the women weren't really missing at all, for they had never been born.

If you believe Oster's numbers�and as they are presented in a soon-to-be-published paper, they are extremely compelling�then her detective work has established the fate of roughly 50 million of Amartya Sen's missing women. Her discovery hardly means that Sen was wrong to cry misogyny, at least in some parts of the world: While Oster found, for instance, that Hepatitis B can account for roughly 75 percent of the missing women in China, it can account for less than 20 percent of the boy-girl gap in Sen's native India. The culprits behind the disappearance of the 50 million women whom Oster did not find are likely the horrible ones that Sen and others have suggested.

Fascinating article, including the closing anecdote about a particular infant American girl. However, the framing -- "my, don't economics and statistics provide nice tools when used properly?" -- deemphasizes the questions most interesting to me.

Why would Hepatitis B skew birth sex toward males so much? Not the mechanism, but the motivation -- inasmuch as a virus can be said to have motivation, in that it will tend over the generations to do things that ensure its own prevalence or recede from interest. Are boys better vectors of the virus?

And turning back to the other missing Asian women -- the previously hypothesized explanations are all rather bleak. Also from the article:

[Economist Amartya] Sen charged these cultures with gravely mistreating their young girls�perhaps by starving their daughters at the expense of their sons or not taking the girls to doctors when they should have. Although Sen didn't say so, there were other sinister possibilities. Were the missing women a result of selective abortions? Female infanticide? A forced export of prostitutes?
If, even after the Hepatitis B effect, 50 million born Asian women have disappeared as victims of treatment ranging from neglect to murder, why would such practices be so ingrained and self-sustaining? What organisms' propagation benefits from such murderous misogyny?

Humans ourselves? (There is no shortage of Asian peoples, despite whatever gender injustices are being practiced.)

But also: cultural values and customs are not unlike viruses. They must transmit themselves from person to person, generation to generation, to even be noticed. They may advance themselves even at the expense of their hosts. Is misogyny itself a far-distant cousin of Hepatitis B, both malign self-replicating organisms on a human substrate, each sharing the same preference for men as better hosts?

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Are Dubner and Levitt e the kings of controversial conclusions? I just finished reading Freakonomics. The abortion leading to lower crime rates idea seems funny to me because it's as universally offensive as it is logical.
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