The Prevalence of Male Circumcision

Circumcision is the most common procedure performed on males in the United States—an estimated one million procedures are performed per year. Only about 20 percent of the procedures are performed for religious reasons; the majority are performed in newborns for medical, cultural, or aesthetic reasons. Estimates suggest that circumcision is performed on 60 to 90 percent of boys in the United States. Although observers have noted some variations by region and by cultural group in the use of this procedure, accurate rates for circumcision are not available (Wallerstein). The best documented rates of newborn circumcision in the United States come from a study of infants delivered in U.S. military hospitals (Wiswell, 1992). The rate of circumcision in 1971 was estimated to be 89 percent, falling to 70 percent in 1984, with a subsequent rise to 80 percent in 1990. These differences suggest that parents' decisions about circumcision are influenced by the ebb and flow of social debate over the procedure.

The high rate of nonritual circumcision places the United States in a unique position in the world. In regions where the majority of the world's population lives, including western Europe, the former Soviet Union, China, and Japan, male circumcision is not performed. In 1985, Edward Wallerstein provided the following estimates of circumcision rates: In Great Britain an estimated 1 percent of the male population is circumcised; in New Zealand the figure is about 10 percent; in Australia, 35 to 40 percent; and in Canada, 35 to 40 percent. Circumcision is performed commonly as a religious ritual by Jews, Muslims, many black Africans, and nonwhite Australians.

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