The Elderly Missing Women Phenomenon – Consequence of female victimization

Sehar Ezdi


One of the starkest manifestations of violence against women is the elderly missing women phenomenon. Missing women, a term introduced by Amartya Sen in 1990, refers to abnormally high female mortality in certain parts of Asia and Africa compared to the rest of the world. The elderly missing women phenomenon conceptualizes the result of many discriminating factors at each stage of the female life course (e.g. female infanticide before/at birth, gender discrimination in health and nutrition in childhood, early marriage and honor killings in young adulthood, domestic violence in adulthood and accusations of witchcraft in old age) and evinces that the cumulative impact of these factors is most evident in old age not only through the depleted stock of elderly women in selected countries (e.g. Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh) but also the poor socioeconomic status of those women who survive to old age. In a nutshell, despite the universal survival advantage of women, men outnumber women well into old age in some parts of the word. The chapter aims to examine the elderly missing women phenomenon via a life course perspective by theorizing factors responsible for missing women by life stage and discussing their contribution to the female deficit in old age. It briefly postulates on how these factors vary across historical time, birth cohorts and sociocultural boundaries. It concludes that the factors responsible for missing women are not the result of ageist practices but a consequence of social changes over time and continuously evolve across the life course.

Published in Violence Against Older Women