The small village of Miejsce Odrzańskie, located within Kędzierzyn-Koźle County, Opole Voivodeship, in south-western Poland, seems like just any other quaint little agricultural hamlet like many others scattered across the region. Here life is quiet and peaceful, people live simple lives, farming is the main occupation, and crime is nearly nonexistent. Yet this place has a unique anomaly, and it seems that not a single baby boy has been born here in a decade.
The strange quirk wasn’t really noticed for quite some time, that is, until the town’s all girl firefighter team won a regional competition, and some curious people pointed out that the village had a shortage of boys. When officials checked the records it was found that indeed, within the population of less than 300, the last 12 births had all been girls. It is an odd glitch in a country that statistically shows that usually more boys are born than girls, for instance in 2017, 207,000 boys were born compared to 196,000 girls. The town’s mayor, Rajmund Frischko, would say of this strange oddity of his village:
We looked into it further, reviewing birth certificates. I think that what the older residents say is confirmed. Girls are constantly born and the birth of boys is rare. Explaining this puzzle will not be easy. There is a saying: When boys are born, there will be war, when girls are born, it means peace. So, thank God it is so. Some scientists have expressed interest in examining why only girls have been born here. I also have doctors calling me from all over the country with tips on how to conceive a boy.
The strange population anomaly would soon be thrust into the spotlight, being covered by news agencies all over the world and the village visited by numerous news crews, and in the meantime the villagers took to some rather unorthodox techniques to have boys, such as special diets and keeping an axe under the marital bed, of all things, which is supposedly a Polish folk tradition. Scientists have been busy trying to figure it all out, with such theories ranging from that it is some unique characteristic of the environment or some anomalous quirk of body chemistry among the residents. Others say that this is just a statistical fluke, with Craig Anderson from the University of Glasgow stating:
The most prosaic suggestion is also by far the most likely – that it’s just a statistical coincidence. So how could this be possible? Just like a coin toss, a birth has two equally likely outcomes – and therefore the probability of any given baby being a girl is ½. We can also assume that each individual birth can be considered to be independent of the previous one – the first mother having a girl doesn’t make it any more or less likely that the second mother will have a girl. In isolation, that sounds extremely unlikely – if you were told there was a one in 4,000 chance of it raining tomorrow then you probably wouldn’t bother with your umbrella. However, it’s important to remember that these odds relate to the very specific question: “What is the probability of there being 12 consecutive girls born in Miejsce Odrzanskie?”
There’s nothing special about this town in Poland – it would still have been international news if the same thing had happened in a village in Lithuania or Hungary. Likewise, it would still be equally newsworthy if it had been 12 consecutive boys instead of girls. If we change the question to: “What is the probability of the last 12 children born in some town somewhere in the world all being the same sex?” then we see a completely different story. The GeoNames database is an online database containing details of every town in the world with a population of over 500, and it suggests there are just under 200,000 such towns across the planet.
So, although this run of girls seems like a strange and unique event to the people of Miejsce Odrzanskie, there are in fact probably about 99 other places in the world where something similar is happening right now. Part of the reason why the Miejsce Odrzanskie case might have captured so much attention is down to the timescale involved. It is a very small village of just 272 people with a birth rate of not much more than one per year. That means that this run of 12 girls is extended over almost a decade, which is what has attracted so much attention.
In this idea, this is just the normal result of randomness, and while it seems strange to us it is technically nothing particularly out of the ordinary. Yet, others are not so sure, and some research groups are looking to other possible causes, going back through the genetic lineages of the residents down through the centuries to see if there are any clues to why this might be happening. Whatever the cause may be, the village has been compensating by filling what are seen as traditionally male jobs in Poland, such as farming, with women, the fire department in Miejsce Odrzańskie has 24 women and just eight men, with an all-girl fire brigade as well, and the town mayor has offered a reward for anyone who gives birth to a boy, saying:
I think the situation is unusual and it is worth trying to find out why. For my part, I have decided to reward the parents of the first boy born. I will not reveal exactly how, but I assure you that the gift will be attractive. There has been so much talk about us in the media that for a minute there I was considering naming a street after the next boy born here. He will definitely get a very nice gift. And we will plant an oak and name it after him.
We are left to wonder why this is happening here in this tiny village, and it reminds me of other villages that have similar oddities such as the village in India where way more twins are born than normal. Is there some environmental effect at work here, perhaps some phenomenon we have yet to undertsnad, or is it as many say just a statistical glitch? Whatever the case may be, the village of Miejsce Odrzańskie is still waiting for that boy.