Medicine: Does War Breed Boys?

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In peacetime about 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. During and just after wars the ratio mysteriously increases to about 108 boys for every 100 girls. For the first time in World War II, this phenomenon has appeared in several warring nations of Europe, according to reports from Sweden last fortnight.

Many doctors and scientists dismiss the phenomenon as mere illusion and folklore—perhaps because they cannot explain it. But Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. statisticians call the changing ratio "an established fact." It did not occur in the Franco-Prussian War, which lasted only a few months. Nor did it occur in the U.S. in World War I, when only 4% of the population was under arms and only for a short period. But, say the Metropolitan's statisticians, it was the experience of all the principal European countries in World War I.

Explanations are various and tentative. For example:

> Poorly nourished women, it is suggested, may give birth to a greater proportion of boys than girls. But "careful research," says the Metropolitan, "has failed to discover any such effect in connection with the terrible periodic famines in India."

> It is a fact that first babies are more likely to be boys. Just after a war there is an unusual increase in marriages and births, mostly among young adults. Hence a rising ratio of male babies is inevitable.

> About 115 to 120 boys are conceived for every 100 girls, but normally about 50% more male embryos are lost in miscarriages than female. Fewer children are born in wartime,* especially—suggests Biologist Gunner Dahlberg of Sweden's great Upsala University—to hard-working women, who are most likely to suffer miscarriages. This displacement is enough, he believes, to affect the boy-girl ratio.

>Another explanation was offered by Theologian Johann Süssmilch, who observed the phenomenon in 18th-Century Europe. Divine Providence, he said, brings more boy babies into the world to compensate for the slaughter of men in battle.

-Though the U.S. birth rate is now booming, census officials predict a severe slump next year as the Army sends men overseas.