You know my son, he likes to ask questions and more questions I can’t answer. Well, this time, on the way home from synagogue, he asked me how many men and women there were in the world. I told him that the world’s population was pretty evenly divided which I have now ascertained to be a valid statement. The CIA World Factbook tells us there are 1.01 males in the world for every female. In the US, by the way, that ratio is 0.97 male/female, in Canada it is 0.98, in Israel it is 0.99 and in France it is 0.95.

So my son asked, “Daddy, how does that happen? How does the world know how many men and women should be born? Doesn’t Joseph (a friend) have 3 boys? Does that mean someone else has to have 3 girls?”

Now, he didn’t make the connection to the issue of God in that conversation. That happened in a later conversation that I overheard at a break-the-fast gathering tonight at a friend’s house. My son was speaking to our friend’s little boy who asked where God is. My son answered that God is in nature. “What is nature” asked the little boy. “Anything that isn’t man-made” answered my son without missing a beat. I interrupted and asked him whether God was in trees or in people. He didn’t know but he thought God was the air around people and trees, but might also be in parts of nature like trees or rocks. Then he added that if God was in people, that would explain how the world knows exactly how many boys and girls need to be born to be equal in number.

The food tasted quite good, by the way.

About the author

themiddle

27 Comments

  • I think I’d like to nominate your son as “President of World Judaism.”

    Next time, ask your son why there are so many single Jewish women for every available man (I don’t have the stat and am too busy to search for it), and if he comes up with a “Big Love” solution, maybe we’ll get to the point where we consider it.

  • Dear Mufti,

    I was expecting far better from you on this topic. I know you’re busy and all, but saying “genetics” doesn’t buy you a pass. How does “nature” know to divide the sexes evenly? How does “nature” know that it should distribute the sexes evenly inside the confines of a state? How is it that a family in one city can have 3 boys while another family in Vancouver will have 1 boy and two girls while another family in Moosejaw will have two girls and have this pattern repeat itself throughout society so that the ratio of male to female remain balanced? What in the field of Genetics explains this phenomenon and what explains it in a rational “non-God” way?

    Dear Esther,

    In my Conservative shul over the high holidays, I noticed the same thing. There were indeed a disproportionate number of attractive and available single women relative to the small number of available single men. I know some of these young women and I simply can’t understand how there isn’t a line to snatch them up.

  • Did you not read biology at school 🙂

    In humans, the female egg has always an X chromosome. Male can be either X or Y, thus the male defines the sex of the offspring. Now, a male produces sperm with 50:50 ratio of X and Y chromosomes. Thus the offspring is about 50% girls and 50% boys (as male was the one determining the sex, thus the offspring sex ratio reflects male sperm X/Y ratio). Obviously this property of the sex of offspring applies also to a larger population, within a small deviation, as all males are mostly alike.

    In other words, I’ll go with Grandmuffti’s genetics. Why the sperm is about half X and half Y, that I don’t know (or remember, if it was told).

  • But Finnish, the why is the entire point.

    By the way, even if there is a 50/50 split in the sperm, why should there be a similar split in the sperm that actually impregnates?

  • *sigh*. nature doesn’t ‘know’. It’s a random process. And when you have a random process that is over 2 options (Muffti knows that really there aren’t only 2 options for outcomes, but roughly speaking) you expect, not surprisingly, a 50%-50% distribution. Which is what you see. Case closed, no god.

  • Ah! Quite right, Themiddle. Now the question of little-Themiddle (Themidlet?) is puzzling me too.

    All I can think of is that there’s a mechanism which no matter what ratios you start with, it ends up with the 50%/50% ratio because that ratio (from the top of my head) guarantees most genetic diversity (=biggest possible amount of both sexes simultaneously) and biggest chance of population survival (as theoretically everyone has a mate and can breed).

    In other words, the ratio is beneficial for the survival of the organism as a whole. And in yet other words, organisms which followed some other ratios probably died out or were outrun by others with better ratios.

    Anyway, someone who actually has a clue about and authority in genetics, could weigh in a bit…?

  • Um, Muffti, you should stop sighing because it interferes with logical thought processes. “Random” does not translate into “evenly divided” no matter how atheistic you are. “Random” also doesn’t translate to balanced. In fact, “random” means the opposite.

    In line with Finnish’s comment about diversity and survival, one could argue that a predominance of females with a smaller number of “breeding” males with “strong” genetic make-up would provide for a healthier humanity. No?

  • Themiddle, I don’t know, maybe the larger head (or something else) of the X-chromosome sperm makes it easier to enter the egg to fertilize it, even if the Y-chromosome sperm is faster and thus capable of reaching its target faster.

    My impression is that the moment of fertilization is not easy for the sperm, they have to fight their way in, so the first one at the egg might not fertilize it with 100% certainty.

  • Did I hear someone ring for a geneticist?
    The official science-y explanation is actually pretty much what’s already been said.

    In sperm cells, the X and Y chromosomes pair up (see here for more info:http://www.biology.arizona.edu/CELL_BIO/tutorials/meiosis/page3.html)
    So when meiosis happens (sperm cells are made), half of them get the X chromosome and half get the Y- which is pretty much an X chromosome that’s missing a piece (insert male-bashing comment here).

    When you flip a coin enough times, you’ll get 50% heads and 50% tails. If a population has lots of babies, statistically, half of them will be boys and half will be girls, which still doesn’t address Esther’s question.

  • You lost me, Judi, at the coin flipping analogy. Let’s forget that analogy for a moment and return to the real situation. It’s clear that the cells are divided evenly between the X and the Y. All that does, however, is create the statistical possibility of an even split. I’m not an expert on statistics, but there are plenty of situations where you have a statistical probability that doesn’t bear out. Heck, that’s why they have baseball playoffs even though the Yankees are in the post-season. As I noted, you may have families with children entirely of the same gender, but somehow other families are going to have to balance them out. We have no way of knowing which couples will choose to marry or at least be together to try to have children in a larger society. Essentially, these are “uncontrolled sample” pairs of individuals. Also, the process of impregnation is not instantaneous but may take several months and numerous attempts, thereby creating variables that are, again, uncontrolled and uncontrollable.

    Finally, there is one additional issue which is that these societal ratios differ depending upon the age group. Thus, in Israel, the ratio of boys to girls at birth is 1.05, while it drops to 0.75 (!!!) after age 65. As a societal average, however, it remains at 0.99 or about as close as you can get, statistically, to a perfect 1.0. Obviously, this undermines the supposedly inherent coin flip analogy and raises the larger type of question that I’m asking.

  • The issue is not really the ratio of male to females. It’s the ratio of educated, employed, well-groomed, single Jewish heterosexual males to females with similiar traits. That ratio is so disproportionate in the tri-state area that it’s proof positive that G-d hasn’t checked out the area recently.

  • Look, Middle, my field is genetics, not real life. I live my professional life in a white ivory tower with a crappy view of rooftops and take out my frustrations by blathering on about wholly irrelevant and fairly unlikely outcomes of coin tosses and one night stands. If I really knew anything at all about statistics, I’d be at the Mohegan Sun right now. Instead, I’m stressing over microscope settings. Go figure. 😉

  • Hey, wait a minute! Where are you writing about one night stands?

    Still, you gotta admit, genetics or not, this is a difficult question regardless of Muffti’s constant sighs.

    Chutzpah, I hear ya. In my synagogue, not all the available men met your criteria. Fortunately, a couple of the women had very wealthy daddies. 😉

    Now if that kind of perfect fit doesn’t make you believe in God, what will?

  • I suppose G-d provides to each according to their needs, but their are some needs even a wealthy Dad can’t take care of.

  • You’re all a bunch of freakin’ idiots (except the kid who asked–I don’t expect him to know better). Check out this yutz:

    “*sigh*. nature doesn’t ‘know’. It’s a random process. And when you have a random process that is over 2 options (Muffti knows that really there aren’t only 2 options for outcomes, but roughly speaking) you expect, not surprisingly, a 50%-50% distribution. Which is what you see. Case closed, no god.”

    Or this shmuck:

    “When you flip a coin enough times, you’ll get 50% heads and 50% tails. If a population has lots of babies, statistically, half of them will be boys and half will be girls, which still doesn’t address Esther’s question.”

    Repeat after me:
    The number of possible outcomes does NOT determine the odds of any of them.

    Go on, read it a few times.

    The fact that when I shoot a basketball at the basket it will either go in or not go in (two possible outcomes) does NOT mean that I will be a 50% shooter (or that everyone will). Sure enough, the NBA doesn’t pay each player equally. The fact that a baby will be either male or female does NOT mean that there will be 50% boys and 50% girls. Sure enough, many species (that also have two sexes) do NOT have 1:1 boy/girl ratios.

    So why do we have an even ratio? Is a god really playing Maxwell’s demon and sorting the sperm? Of course not. The reason we have any and all aspects of our species is always the same: evolution. Stop thinking about things in terms of a god, get your mind out of the Dark Ages, and join the Enlightenment. We have even numbers of boys and girls because any other arrangement would be selected against. Here’s why:

    Say the genes for making babies are set at 50/50 (b:g). Random changes will constantly be pushing that number around. So imagine one gene line of 60/40 comes to dominate due to some other advantageous gene in that gene line or just plain historical coincidence (e.g. a meteor left only a small remnant that all have this 60:40 gene). Now the situation is set up that there’s more boys than girls, giving a HUGE genetic advantage to gene lines that “cheat” on the status quo and add a bit to their girls in the ratio. (Obviously not intentionally cheat; genes, like some commenters here, have no brains.) It’s like that current TV show about a lady moving to an Alaskan town because the male to female ratio there is 10:1, giving her a huge advantage. A girl’s genes in such an environment are almost cerain to be passed on, so evolution will favor it heavily. Thus, any shift away from 50/50 (in either direction) automatically advantages any gene line that is closer than it to 50/50. Natural selection thus assures that the ratio hovers around 50/50. (The non-50/50 species are ones where the advantage line is unbalanced by other factors, but the same balancing algorithm occurs just with a different set of weights.)

    Sorry for being so harsh, but it annoys the hell out of me to see supposedly intelligent grownups saying the stupidest freaking things. Like Theodosius Dobzhansky said, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” If your kid asks you why something in biology is the way it is, the answer isn’t some supernatural being, it’s evolution. As to the title of the post: it’s 2006, you should know better than to think anything proves God’s existence. Welcome to the Enlightenment, I think you’ll like modernity.

  • Oh brilliant one, let’s set up the following scenario: You have 40 women and 60 men in a monogamous society, thus ensuring that every female is spoken for and only 40 out of the 60 males is spoken for. According to you, since 20 men will not have reproducing partners, the actual active reproductive pairs will be evenly divided, as will the overall sexual division of their offspring.

    Forgive my stupidity, but I don’t see how one follows the other. First, you have no indication that the 40 women represent a hardier or even equal genetic stock to their 40 partners. In fact, thanks to selectivity, these 40 men represent the “stronger” 40 of the 60 men, and may thus actually have stronger genetic stock than their female partners who didn’t go through a similar culling process. The odds of this increase if some of the men impregnate more than one woman (you know how the world isn’t always perfect…except for equal balance between males and female humans).

    Second, genetic “cheating” will not rectify this problem either because there is no correlation between the sex of a parent and the likelihood of their offspring to have the same sex since both parents contribute genetic material, but the sperm is contributed by the male and it determines the sex of the child. What determines that an X as opposed to a Y sperm is going to be the one to successfully penetrate the ovum?

    You posit this is evolution and anybody who questions this is stuck somewhere in the Middle Ages. Well, you forced me to do some research and it turns out that this is a very complex question with some posited hypotheses and very little actual knowledge as to why these things are happening. You might find this paper illustrative of this.

    I’ll go a step further, however, since you’ve chosen a very aggressive posture. I have no idea whether there’s a god. I have no idea what the characteristics of god might be should he/she/it exist. If you follow the links above to my son’s previous questions, you will see that those raise great doubts and challenges about the notion of god and his existence at least as understood by Jewish tradition.

    However, just as I question the existence of god, I also find myself unable to disprove it. There are certain things in the world that are simply natural wonders and lead one to question how such a delicate balance can exist. While science is sometimes able to provide theories and even answers, many questions remain unanswered and people who close their minds to alternative theories are just as blind as those who only believe in theories of the supernatural. It’s much better to have a healthy curiosity and ask than to assume.

    In any case, you’ve made an uncompelling argument, despite your exceptional use of “schmuck” and “yutz” and I refer you back to the original question.

  • Oh, and one more thing that just came to mind. There may be some devout Jews who believe that the concept of evolution must be false because it negates the torah. I believe that most Jews, particularly those who aren’t Orthodox but many Orthodox as well, have a different view and perhaps even see evolution as simply another of God’s plans. In other words, there’s no contradiction – just as many Jews find a compromise between the “six days of creation” and the science that claims the world is billions of years old.

  • Cool paper. (and hooray for metaphors! who knows what clock G-d was using at the beginning, anyway.)

    You’ve probably seen this already, but even though you might not want your son to ever ask questions about this, it’s cool–
    the research on birth order and sexual orientation could be seen as more miracles of design. (It could be seen as immoral, so don’t click if you’d rather not see a paper discussing origins of homosexuality.) If this works similarly among women, it might be a mechanism for keeping the (straight) mating pool evenly balanced.

  • The law of large numbers : let n and e be real numbers whos sum is between 0 and 100. then when there is a n% chance of something happening , it will happen (n+/-e)% of the time in reality (obviously). the law of large numbers says that as the number of events goes to infinity, e approaches zero.

Leave a Comment