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Circumcision Statistics
Of the 20th Century

 Ancient History    AAA & 1990s Summary  
>Circumstitions   >Old Medical Journal Quotations  
>CIRP Library
   
       

Thanks to Hugh O'Donnell for working up these statistics.

The United States' Circumcision Century
(by Hugh O’Donnell, April 2001)

Male genital mutilation has been practiced by many unrelated cultures over many thousands of years, so it was by no means a novel idea for America to adopt it. However, it was certainly an incongruous development given that America was clearly the world's leader in science in the 20th century. Mutilation of the genitals, male or female, is always rooted in superstitious beliefs. America's embrace of circumcision represents a triumph for superstition over science.

America cherishes the rights of individual citizens perhaps more than any other nation on Earth. Removing any part of a newborn's body (or the body of a child of any age) without compelling medical justification is a clear and breach of that individual's rights. It is extraordinary that America, while bearing the torch of freedom for the world, while ensuring the survival of human rights in the world, should turn a blind eye to this mutilation.

During 20th century, more than 120 million foreskins were severed from American penises, more than in any other country in the world. At the height of the circumcision frenzy, a foreskin was being sundered, and a penis crippled, every 17 seconds.

Whatever other name one might give the 20th century in respect of America, the appellation "The Circumcision Century" is particularly fitting. Although male circumcision was not made compulsory by law, parents who wanted their sons to grow up complete were either not asked or where browbeaten until they gave in. The history of newborn circumcision in America is quite well documented; but the equally unsavory history of premature retraction and circumcision or older children has received much less attention.

Many confuse the newborn circumcision rate with the completely different statistic of what percentage of living males have been circumcised. The two figures are different; for example, the newborn circumcision rate in Australia is about 10%, but close to 50% of all living males in Australia have been circumcised.

The question as to what percentage of living males in the US have been circumcised is answered in the analysis below, using data in Wallerstein's book, Circumcision: An American Health Fallacy. Wallerstein states that the data, "If anything, errs on the side of caution…." Indeed it is easier to make a case that the newborn circumcision rates presented by Wallerstein underestimate the true rates than overestimate them. With that in mind, the results below may also be underestimates.

Table 1: Intact and Circumcised Male Populations
of the USA by Year, 1900 to 2000

Male population (millions)

For 5 year period Commencing with Year

Year

Intact

Circumcised

Total

Circumcised
(%)

Male
Births
(millions)

Newborn
Circumcision
Rate (%)

Newborn
Circumcisions
(millions)

Non-newborn
Circumcision
(millions)

1900

30

7

37

18

5.1

30

1.5

0.3

1905

33

8

41

20

5.6

35

2.0

0.3

1910

35

10

45

22

6.6

42

2.8

0.4

1915

37

12

49

25

7.0

50

3.5

0.4

1920

37

15

52

29

8.0

52

4.2

0.4

1925

38

19

56

33

6.2

55

3.4

0.5

1930

38

21

60

36

6.3

58

3.7

0.5

1935

38

24

62

39

6.5

60

3.9

0.5

1940

37

27

64

42

7.5

65

4.9

0.5

1945

37

31

68

46

8.7

70

6.1

0.5

1950

37

37

74

50

9.9

72

7.1

0.6

1955

38

43

81

53

11.1

75

8.3

0.6

1960

38

50

88

57

10.7

78

8.4

0.6

1965

38

57

95

60

9.3

80

7.4

0.6

1970

37

63

100

63

8.7

82

7.1

0.6

1975

37

68

105

65

8.5

85

7.2

0.6

1980

36

74

111

67

9.8

80

7.8

0.7

1985

36

80

116

69

9.9

74

7.3

0.8

1990

36

85

122

70

10.4

68

7.1

1.0

1995

38

90

128

70

10.0

63

6.3

1.1

2000

39

94

133

70

       
       

Totals

165.8

66

110.0

11.4

Sources:
Population data: U.S. Bureau of the Census
Circumcision data: Wallerstein

1. 70% of the current male population of the US have been circumcised.

2. 110 of the 166 million males (66%) born during the century underwent circumcision in the newborn period.

3. The annual number of circumcisions was highest between 1955 and 1965. During that decade, 1.8 million males were circumcised every year -- almost 5,000 every day.

4. Between 1915 and 1995 the intact male population remained in a very narrow band between 36 and 38 million, while the circumcised male population soared from 12 million to 90 million.

5. A male born during the century who remained intact in the newborn period had on average about a one in five chance of being circumcised after the newborn period, or a four in five probability of dying intact. That probability fell steadily during the course of the century so that, if the current post-newborn circumcision rate remains constant in the future, a male born at the end of the century who escaped circumcision in the newborn period nevertheless has less than a two in three chance of dying intact.

6. The model used to produce these figures takes into account non-newborn circumcision rates, the rate of immigration and the circumcision status of immigrants, and the circumcision status of deaths and emigrants, all important factors in arriving at the percentage of living males who have been circumcised.

Table 2: Number and Percentage of Living Males in USA in 2000 
who have been Circumcised, by Age and Place of Birth

 

Native Born

Foreign Born

Total

Age

Pop
(x1,000)

NC
(%)

LC
(%)

Circ’d
(%)

Circ’d
(x1,000)

Pop
(x1,000)

AC
(%)

PC
(%)

Circ’d
(%)

Circ’d
(x1,000)

Pop
(x1,000)

Circ’d
(x1,000)

Circ’d
(%)

 

9,600

63

1

64

6,100

82

5

1

6

5

9,683

6,105

63

5- 9

9,975

68

1

69

6,915

233

15

2

17

39

10,208

6,954

68

10-14

9,548

74

2

76

7,225

464

25

3

28

128

10,012

7,354

73

15-19

9,395

80

2

82

7,674

756

25

4

29

216

10,151

7,890

78

20-24

8,176

85

2

87

7,073

1007

20

5

25

249

9,183

7,322

80

25-29

7,881

82

2

84

6,625

1174

15

6

21

246

9,055

6,871

76

30-34

8,316

80

3

83

6,865

1455

15

7

22

317

9,771

7,181

73

35-39

9,676

78

3

81

7,844

1539

15

8

23

347

11,216

8,191

73

40-44

9,677

75

4

79

7,624

1362

15

8

23

316

11,039

7,940

72

45-49

8,405

72

5

77

6,433

1096

15

9

24

262

9,501

6,695

70

50-54

7,129

70

5

75

5,360

869

15

9

24

213

7,998

5,572

70

55-59

5,537

65

6

71

3,953

646

15

10

25

162

6,183

4,115

67

60-64

4,443

60

8

68

3,007

525

15

11

26

134

4,968

3,141

63

65-69

3,926

58

8

66

2,608

410

15

11

26

107

4,337

2,715

63

70-74

3,543

55

9

64

2,282

318

15

12

27

85

3,862

2,367

61

80-84

1,680

50

11

61

1,029

134

15

13

28

37

1,814

1,066

59

85-89

759

42

13

55

421

88

15

13

28

25

847

445

53

90-94

264

35

15

50

133

43

15

14

29

12

307

146

47

95-99

61

30

17

47

29

15

15

14

29

4

76

33

44

100+

8

25

19

44

3

3

15

14

29

1

11

4

40

 

120,802

72

4

75

90,955

12,473

16

8

24

2,968

133,279

93,923

70

Sources:
Population data: U.S. Bureau of the Census
Circumcision data: Wallerstein

NC = Circumcised in the newborn period (neonatal circumcision)
LC = Circumcised after the newborn period (later circumcision)
AC = Circumcised prior to arrival in the USA
PC = Circumcised after arrival in the USA

1. Table 2 also shows that 70% of the current male population of the US have been circumcised.

2. The figure for every age group below the age of 90 is over 50%. Only the (very small and rapidly diminishing number of) males born before 1910 have a better than even chance of having retained their foreskins.

3. 87% of all 20-24yo males born in US have been circumcised. From the differences in circumcision rates by race, one can infer that over 90% of all 20-24yo white males born in US have been circumcised.

Table 3: Changes in Male Population
by Circumcision Status between 1900 and 2000

(Figures in millions)

Intact  

Circumcised

Total

Population in 1900

30

7

37

Births

56

(a)   110 

166

Immigrants

20

(b)      5 

25

Deaths and Emigrants

-56

-39

-95

– of population in 1900

-30

-7

-37

– of births and immigrants

-26

-32

-58

Switch in Status

-11

(c)    11 

 

Population in 2000

39

94

133

(a) Newborn circumcisions
(b) Immigrants who arrived already having been circumcised
(c) Non-newborn circumcisions

Table 1 showed that the percentage of the male population which has been circumcised has stabilized at 70%. The factors which affect the figure, namely the newborn circumcision rate, the non-newborn circumcision rate, the percentage of immigrant arrivals who have been circumcised, and the percentage of deaths and emigrants who have been circumcised are in balance. This is further illustrated by Table 4.

Table 4: Estimated Changes in Male Population
by Circumcision Status between 2000 and 2001

(Figures in thousands)

Intact

Circumcised

Total

Circumcised (%)

Population in 2000

39,356

93,293

133,279

70.47

Births

778

1,168

1,946

 

Immigrants

300

100

400

 

Deaths and Emigrants

-537

-742

-1,279

 

Switch in Status

-236

236

 

 

Population in 2001

39,661

94,685

134,346

70.48

1. Although the newborn circumcision rate has fallen, this has not resulted so far in a fallen in the percentage of living males who have been circumcised. Indeed, that percentage is at an all time high.

2. The percentage of living males who have been circumcised is a very sticky figure. Even if the newborn circumcision rate were to fall dramatically, it would take many decades for the generations of largely circumcised males to be flushed from the statistics.

If the 20th century was ugly, the 21st century will be uglier still unless Americans wake to the harm they are doing to their kind.

If the population of the US grows in line with projections by the US Census Bureau, and current rates of newborn and non-newborn circumcision do not change, there will be 166 million newborn circumcisions and 40 million non-newborn circumcisions in the US in the 21st century.

It is less upsetting to focus on a brighter scenario; a scenario in which the efforts of those campaigning to bring an end to the stupid, barbaric custom bear fruit.

In this highly optimistic scenario, the newborn circumcision rate begins immediately to fall to a similar level as pertains in almost all the free and prosperous countries in the world, reaching that level within a relatively short time span, while the non-newborn rate falls at the same speed, in tandem with the newborn rate.

Table 5: Projected Newborn Circumcision Rate 
and Percentage of Living Males in the USA
who have been circumcised, 2000 to 2050
 

Year

Newborn
Circumcision
Rate (%)

Living Males
who have been
Circumcised
(%)

2000

60

70

2005

50

70

2010

42

69

2015

35

67

2020

29

65

2025

24

62

2030

20

59

2035

17

55

2040

14

52

2045

12

48

2050

10

44

Assumptions:

1) US Census Bureau projections of population change

2) Newborn circumcision rate declines exponentially from 60% to 10% between 2000 and 2050

3) Non-newborn circumcision rate declines exponentially from 6 per 1,000 per annum to 1 per 1,000 per annum between 2000 and 2050

1. Table 5 shows how slowly the percentage of living males who have been circumcised will decline, even as the newborn circumcision rate plummets. It is really only from 2020 -- when the baby boomers start to get flushed out of the statistics -- that the rate begins to decline significantly. While, in this scenario, the newborn circumcision rate falls to 50% by 2005 and continues to decline rapidly, it takes until 2043 for the percentage of living males who have been circumcised to fall to 50%.

2. The absolute number of circumcised living males reaches a high water mark of 100,000,000 in 2011 and remains at that level (rounded to the nearest million) until 2025 inclusive. In the same way that all the factors combined to keep the intact population more or less constant during the 20th century, they now all combine to keep the circumcised population constant (while the intact population increases).

Table 6: Projected Changes in U.S. Male Population 
by Circumcision Status between 2000 and 2050

(Figures in millions)

Intact

Circumcised

Total

Population in 2000

39

94

133

Births

83

30

113

Immigrants

18

6

24

Deaths and Emigrants

-23

-54

-77

Switch in Status

-8

8

 

Population in 2050

109

84

193

In this scenario compared with the status quo, 46 million males will have been spared the loss of their foreskins by 2050, and 143 million by 2100.

 

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