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Today’s New York Times had a story about how women in Williston, ND are feeling harassed. It’s one of the North Dakota communities that has seen a huge influx of men because of the growth of the energy industry. And, the women are feeling threatened.

In India, a young woman died after a gang rape, and that has led to some soul-searching about the role of women in that society.

This is a long-term consideration for investors in China, India, Pakistan, and the Middle East. These countries have more men than women. All of these societies have a cultural preference for men, as do pretty much all societies. In traditional societies, couples just kept having babies, preference be damned, unless they were willing to resort to infanticide. In the modern era, though, technology has allowed those who want a choice to make it, ethics be damned. Throw in China’s one-child policy, access to prenatal ultrasound by India’s emerging middle class, and polygamy in traditional Islamic societies, and it is a whole new world. We’re starting to see the result, which is relatively large populations of unmarried men.

The general effect of a surplus of men is chaos or repression. This can be good – such as some of the revolutions in the Middle East that may lead to better lives for the people – or for bad – gang rapes in India, women putting up with obnoxious propositions in North Dakota. In China, the women seem to be converting their scarcity into power; a man better not think of proposing unless he has a house and a car.

This is very new to the world. Polygamy is traditional, but it worked when young men died at higher rates than women due to wars and hunting accidents. For investors, this imbalance creates an enormous risk. How will these societies deal with the situation? Will they come up with a new approach that will sustain their economic growth, or will they descend into chaos?

You tell me.