The paper uses a class and education based approach to investigate the trends in the sex ratio at birth (SRB) in India. While the definition of the middle class is a purely economic one, it incorporates both social and economic understanding of its behaviour. The paper introduces the concept of the “emerging middle class”– a class that lies between the poor and the “stable” middle class. It argues that the social mobility strategies of the emerging class have much to do with the rise of the SRB; and the increasing share of the stable middle class has much to do with the improvement in SRB post the peak in 2004. Further, it is contended that the mobility strategies have gendered effects accounting for a lower value of girls in upwardly mobile emerging middle class families. The decline of the SRB post 2004 is coincident with a reduction in the size of the emerging middle class and an increase in the size of the stable middle class that depicts less gender bias.
The results for the states of India, 1998 to 2012, are robust and point to three conclusions. First, that changes in the class structure account for a large proportion of both the increases in the SRB, and the equivalent declines in the SRB in the fourteen year period, 1998–2012. Each 10 percentage point (ppt) increase in the size of the middle class improves the sex ratio by 0.7 percentage points. Second, that male and female education affect SRB in opposite ways—an increase in male education increases gender discrimination while an increase in female education improves the sex ratio at birth. The third conclusion is that if the middle class and the narrowing of the female-male education gap increase at observed historical rates, the average SRB in India will achieve natural levels of 105 by the mid-2020s, with the female deficit regions taking longer at normalization.