In a recent article in Politico Magazine, professor in political sciences Valerie Hudson (Texas A&M University) addresses an often neglected consequence of the current migration crisis. As most of the one million migrants from the Middle East and North Africa that arrived in Europe in 2015 are young men, recent mass migration potentially disrupts the gender balance in European countries with liberal migration policies. Although The Economist notices that for big countries, like Germany, the effect of recent immigration on the already existing gender imbalance is negligible, changes in sex ratio might indeed be considerable in countries with less than 10 million citizens, like Sweden, Hungary, Austria and Norway.
Hudson discusses the example of Sweden, where 71 percent of all migrants who arrived in 2015 are male. Besides, 21 percent of all last year’s migrants are unaccompanied minors among which more than 90 percent is, again, male. This leads to imbalances in numbers of males and females in certain age cohorts. Hudson figures that for every 100 16- and 17-year-old girls in Sweden there are now 123 boys of the same age.
One interesting justice-related question is whether the potential imbalance in sex ratio is sufficient as a moral consideration to change the migration policy of European countries. If so, one option is to limit the amount of male newcomers. Then the question is the following: is it justifiable for small countries to discriminate based on sex when they decide which migrants (as Julia Hermann explains, we should consider both economic migrants and refugees) are permitted to stay in their country? Unlike Hudson, who clearly answers affirmatively, I unfortunately have no clear-cut answer to this question.
Obviously, the sex ratio is a relevant moral consideration. An overly imbalanced sex ratio is problematic for several reasons. For one thing, it generates a sexually frustrated generation of men without any perspective to start a family. As Hudson’s research shows, a troubling sex ratio correlates with more violence, crimes, rapes, sexual harassment and demand for prostitution. Clearly, a government should protect its citizens from such predictable infringements of their rights and liberties. Besides, Hudson also points out that there is a danger for more anti-government movements in countries with many unattached young men. This is especially problematic for a country like Sweden, as many consider it to be an example of a well-functioning liberal welfare state.
Nevertheless, the standard arguments against discrimination and in favour of a liberal migration policy still apply. We have a basic duty not to discriminate based on sex. It is disrespectful and unfair to justify a migration policy by reference to differences in sex. What is even more problematic with a discriminatory migration policy based on Hudson’s considerations, is that the newcomers, in general, haven’t breached any law. They haven’t proved to be a rapist, criminal or revolutionist yet. Wouldn’t it be wrong to sanction them for potential future wrongdoings most probably done by other men (migrants and natives)?
Also, it seems unfair for a government to refuse persons a permission to stay and, supposedly, to send them back to where they came from or to burden other European countries, because of the protection of one’s own citizens’ chances to enjoy a family life. Hudson thinks a skewed sex ratio as a consequence of migration would mean a tragedy for European men. But isn’t it a matter of brute luck whether one is born in Europe, where men can enjoy economic, political and social stability, including a family life, or in a country suffering from economical and/or political injustices, where a stable family life is jeopardized by external factors? The moral ground for any policy based on our current system of ‘magical borders’, like a policy that favours one’s own male citizens over those of other countries, seems therefore shaky at least.
Like I said, I don’t really know whether a skewed sex ratio can ever be a good enough reason to limit the amount of male newcomers. There are reasonable arguments for both positions and a lot, probably, hinges on empirical knowledge of the precise effects. Nevertheless, the danger for social and political stability that bad sex ratios generate points to two less drastic and plausible policy conclusions. Firstly, this danger might provide an extra argument to stimulate family reunification. The easier it is for men to invite their partners (and potentially other relatives) to join them in Europe tomorrow, the less problematic it is that so many men are arriving alone today. Secondly, it seems reasonable to accept the consequences of male migration on the sex ratio as a relevant element in any plan that wants to relocate migrants. The European Union has recently presented such a plan, but many European countries have similar plans for the relocation of migrants within their borders. The balance between males and females within certain countries or regions should partly inform this policy. As the consequences for bigger countries and cities are less threatening than for small countries and local towns, the former should be expected to accept more young males than the latter. These two policy proposals constitute a pragmatic position, taking into account the arguments for both a non-discriminatory liberal migration policy and the threat for stability that imbalanced sex ratios generate.