In this new series, we will explore the role of women in- and outside the city. Different urban issues concerning the lives of women will be discussed in this series. In this article, the central theme will be the sex ratio of European countries and cities. Although the sex ratio does not seem to be a very visible or threatening issue, it does heavily impact the daily lives of EU citizens. Different regions in Europe will be highlighted and compared to give an overview of the male/female (im)balance.
When looking at the sex ratio of European countries, there are two general facts that have to be taken into account: First, more boys than girls are being born; around 105 boys to 100 girls and secondly, women usually reach an older age than men. Historically speaking, the European population has therefore had a slightly female dominated population. However, this is not the case everywhere in Europe anymore. The surplus of women in Eastern Europe will be discussed first, then I will talk about the sudden shift of males in Northern Europe and lastly, the tendency of higher female populations in cities will be explained.
In Eastern Europe, the gender imbalance is quite high; there are way more women than men in countries who were formerly part of the Soviet Union, as can be seen on the image below. According to sociologist and lecturer Baiba Bela, this is due to a couple of factors. Most importantly, the fall of the Soviet Union and the upcoming of capitalism has mostly taken a toll on men. Due to traditional patriarchal structures, men felt more pressured to earn money, while unemployment rates went up. This caused men to turn to alcohol, car accidents to happen more frequently and most drastically; 80% of suicides are undertaken by men (these numbers are from Latvia).
Psychoanalyst Ansis Stabingis lists two reasons why women have been more adaptive to this capitalist shift; they have higher tendencies to seek professional mental help and since many of them are single mothers, their children might help them to keep going. Especially in cities, a big discrepancy between male and female populations can be detected, as can be seen in the second image below. An over-all female surplus can be detected in Southern Europe as well, although it is uncertain why exactly this is the case.
Western and Northern Europe
In the Northern Europe, the gender balance of the population has shifted. The century-long trend female population dominance has changed over the last year. In Sweden, there are now more men than women. A clear male surplus has previously been attributed to countries such as India, China and Saudi-Arabia, where there is a clear preference for male over female children. Norway has encountered a male surplus as of 2011. The surplus in Sweden is noticeable as of 2015, and according to population expert Tomas Johansson, countries like Germany, Denmark, Switzerland and the UK might also tilt towards a male majority population. Why then are countries in Northern Europe – famous for their gender equality – experiencing the same population imbalances?
Tomáš Sobotka, a population expert at the Vienna Institute for Demography gives two explanations for this phenomenon. The first is that men are becoming older in wealthier countries. Secondly, Sobotka sees the influx of migrants as a factor that is changing sex ratios, this rise can be seen in the image below. Figures from Italy and Greece show that around 66 percent of all refugees are male. Men are usually under more pressure to flee their country – they might be forced to join armed forces or are threatened to be killed by them – and furthermore, they tend to take the journey first before they bring their wives and children over.
What are the consequences of this male surplus? Thomas Johansson explains that there could be two tendencies; women could either increase their bargaining power when picking a partner because they will have more men to choose from. Or, and the second tendency is less optimistic, it might lead to an increased risk of harassment from men. Feminists are also unsure of what this gender imbalance will mean for the European society. They argue that it is incomparable to countries such as China or India because the gender dynamics in these countries is entirely different.
After giving an overview of different EU-regions, European cities will now be central. Everywhere in Europe, another trend can be detected; that of a female surplus in urban regions. This tendency is clearly visible on the map below, where ESPON (European Observation Network, Territorial Development and Cohesion) has looked at the sex ratio for people between the ages of 25 to 29. Particularly highly educated females are moving to the cities and for several reasons; first of all, there are more universities in the cities than in the rural areas. Secondly, these highly educated women have more chances of finding a suitable job in the cities.
This tendency has been especially noticeable after the role of the woman changed in European society. While women were first seen as housewives, obliged to stay at home to do the cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children, a shift occurred in the eighties and nineties, where the woman had to fulfil an economic role as well. This resulted in many women looking for jobs, and finding them in the city. In short, this causes not just a brain drain in rural areas, but also leads to a shortage of females, causing yet another gender imbalance.
What are the consequences of an imbalanced sex ratio?
As already stated above, imbalanced sex ratios can have more severe consequences than people usual assume. Most have been said about a male dominated population, which might lead to increased aggression towards women and a reversal of equality efforts in European countries. Canada seems so far to be the first country to be concerned with this issue. Therefore, the new liberal administration of Justin Trudeau has announced that it will only allow women, accompanied children and families from Syria in 2016. Excluded are males minors who are unaccompanied, single adult males, members of the LGBTQ community excluded.
A female surplus, however, might also be a reason for concern. This has led in Europe to many single elderly women. This does not seem to be a very pressing issue, but the fact that there are more young, highly educated and often single women in the cities is. If men stay in rural areas and women move to the cities, they are less likely to meet. And this might lead to alarming population fallbacks as is currently the case in Denmark.