BRIDE SHORTAGE IN CHINA
The high number of male births has also resulted in a shortage of brides. According to the Chinese Academy of Sciences one in five young men will be brideless. It is estimated that one million Chinese men will reach marriageable age every year and be unable to find a wife. Studies indicate that one in ten to one in six men —a number equivalent to the entire population of Canada—will never get married and that unmarried men between 20 and 44 already outnumber their female counterparts 2 to 1.
Some have described the problem as a ticking “bachelor bomb.” Studies indicate that the older a man gets the less likely he is to get married. For Chinese in their thirties the number of single men to single women is nearly 10 to 1. Roseann Lake wrote in Salon.com, As a result of China’s one-child policy and ensuing female infanticides due to the traditional preference for males, China’s male to female ratio is seriously skewed in favor of the fairer sex. According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, by 2020, there will be 30 million more men than women of marriageable age in China. This surplus is unprecedented for a country at peace, and equates to 1 in 5 Chinese men being unable to find a bride. Fears of China expanding its military have been expressed, as have concerns over the increased prostitution, violent crime and bride trafficking that such a disproportionate number of males generally spurs. But certainly, and perhaps more trivially, a surplus of 30 million men should at least improve a girl’s chances of finding someone she might want to marry? [Source: Roseann Lake, Salon.com, March 12, 2012]
Bachelors unable to find marriage partners in China are called “bare branches.” The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences described the issue as the most serious demographic challenge for China. Senior Communist officials have described the problem as a potential cause of crime and social unrest and instability. Men who have no wife and no offspring are called “bare branches.” A computer salesman told Time, “Every girl I meet has already had several marriage offers.” Already "bachelor villages," inhabited primarily by men, are scattered in some of China's poorer regions, particularly in northern Shaanxi province, and in Ningxi and Gaungxi provinces.
Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Family Planning in China china.org.cn ; New England Journal of Medicine article nejm.org ; One Child policy articles harker.org Too Many Boys and Military Agression opinionjournal.com ; Christian Science Monitor csmonitor.com ; Links in this Website: POPULATION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; ONE-CHILD POLICY IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; BIRTH CONTROL IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; PREFERENCE FOR BOYS Factsanddetails.com/China
Unmarriageable Men in China
Nicholas Eberstad wrote in Far Eastern Economic Review, ‘China is not the only country in the modern world to report unnatural sex ratios at birth; South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and parts of northern India are places where SRBs have risen above 108 in recent years. In all of these settings, the strange imbalances appear to be due to a confluence of three factors: an overpowering preference for sons; low or sub-replacement fertility levels (making the gender outcome of each birth more significant); and the availability of gender determination technologies like ultrasound, which facilitates widespread sex-selective abortion. In China today, however, SRB disparities are more extreme than in any other country on earth—and there is little doubt the imbalances are largely due to the One Child Policy. Professor Zeng of Peking University has suggested that the policy may be responsible for as much as 10 points in China's SRB.’ [Source: Nicholas Eberstad, Far Eastern Economic Review, December 2009]
Calculations by Professor Zeng and his colleagues point to the magnitude of the problem. Today, roughly 5 percent of Chinese men in their late 30s have never married. By 2020, that fraction could exceed 15 percent, and may reach 25 percent by 2040. The situation will be more extreme in the countryside, since rural men are more likely to lose out to more affluent and educated urban suitors in the national marriage race. By these same calculations, in 2020 about 20 percent of China's rural men between the ages of 35 to 44 will never have taken a bride, and the proportion rises above 30 percent by 2040. “ [Ibid]
How will Chinese government and society function in the face of this rising tide of unmarriageable young men, an able-bodied but very likely disaffected cadre drawn disproportionately from the countryside and the urban poor? Speculating about this is almost like imagining the end to a science fiction story—the drama takes us into a universe whose coordinates are far removed from the world we know. Even so, what may be hardest of all to imagine is that at the end of the day, this profound demographic disjuncture would leave China's economy, society and polity altogether unaffected. “ [Ibid]
Consequences of the Bride Shortage in China
Demographers say the bride shortage might lead to more prostitution, an increase in bride sales, bigamy, forced marriages, and mass migrations of men across China's borders in search of women. A reports in Science magazine warned of an "army of bachelors" that could cause "social perils and all sorts of factors of instability.'
Studies by political scientists Andrea M. Den Boer and Valerie Hudson found that single young men are more likely to commit violence than married ones. Even criminals often give up crime after they get married and settle down. This pattern is consistent with the high crime rates found in Chinese cities that have particularly high male-to-female sex ratios.
Many of the migrant workers in Chinese cities are unmarried men. Those that can’t find work often congregate in groups—often at train and bus stations. Some have formed gangs and been hired as thugs.
Another consequence of the bride shortage is the high number of men with hangdog expressions hanging out in shopping districts in Beijing and other cities, where they hope to catch they eye of young women walking the streets. One single man told the New York Times, "This whole generation of Chinese men who will become monks. And then the women will feel sorry for us."
Even the government is beginning to admit there is a problem. In 2007, China’s State Population and Family Commission said, that “the increasingly difficulties men face finding wives may lead to social instability” and suggested relaxing the one-child policy to boost the number of women.
Bride Shortage and the Abduction of Women in China
Stanford University's Marcus Feldman told Newsweek, "With a free-market economies developing at the same time the number of available bride decreases, you will find women increasingly becoming commodities to be bought and sold." Already large numbers of brides are being smuggled into China from Vietnam and are also making their way in from Russia and Central Asia. Some girls and young women from North Korea, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam have been kidnaped and taken to China and sold as brides.
There are high demands for brides in Hebei, Guizhou and Guangdong, where there are shortages of women. In some bachelor villages the men say they are so poor that no one will marry them. Some of them have tricked women into marrying them by claiming they are richer than they really are
Efforts to Combat the Bride Shortage in China
To combat the bride shortage some have suggested raising the marriage age of men (now 22) and lowering it for women (now 20). Some have also suggested bringing in women from other countries and allowing women to marry two men.
Others have suggested that the Chinese government might lure men from the cities with big public work projects likes dams or even expand the military to accommodate them. In the past some men joined the army and some became monks. This took off some of the pressure to find women for all the available men.
In some places men are marrying their first cousins and even their sisters through deals made with relatives because that is only way they can find a wife. The practice is so common that some communities are referred to as “incest villages.”
Some have suggested the problem will continue until China creates a real social safety net to reduce the demand for boys.
See Marriage and Dating
Adoptions and Girl Trafficking in China
The shortage of women has created a black market for baby girls and abducted women. The trafficking of girls has become a serious problem.
Women Trafficking, See Women
Child Kidnaping, See Children
Adoptions and Girls, See Children
New Family Structures in China
Nicholas Eberstad wrote in Far Eastern Economic Review, ‘The most far-reaching implications of the many demographic changes inadvertently promoted by the One Child Policy, however, may not concern those who cannot find a spouse. Instead, they may entail a revolution in family structure for those who do manage to marry and have children. With the advent of steep sub-replacement fertility rates, single-child families are increasingly common, a trend which may portend the demise of the extended family network and the rise of a peculiar new pattern: only children begotten by only children. In such families, children will have no siblings, uncles, aunts or cousins. Their only blood relatives will be ancestors and descendants.’ [Source: Nicholas Eberstad, Far Eastern Economic Review, December 2009]
Research by Professor Guo Zhigang of Peking University and his colleagues suggests how far China has already moved toward this new family type. By their estimates, as of the year 2011, nearly a quarter of China's urban adults between the ages of 25 and 49 will be only children. By 2020, this figure would rise to 42 percent, and by 2030, they would constitute the clear majority at 58 percent. “ [Ibid]
The emergence of what we might term the ‘kin-less family’ is expected to pose extraordinary challenges. After all, Chinese culture is predicated on the existence of robust and extensive family bonds. Yet the inherent problems in this impending revolution are not solely metaphysical; the atrophy of the traditional Chinese family structure will also complicate the Chinese way of doing business. “ [Ibid]
In the past, China was what Professor Francis Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins-SAIS has termed a ‘low-trust’ society. It remains one today. To overcome this lack of confidence in laws and official institutions, Chinese entrepreneurs and economic agents have relied upon informal relationships (guanxi) to get things done. These informal networks have served to lower both risk and transaction costs for the parties associated with them. They have, in fact, been an integral and often unacknowledged ingredient in China's economic success over the past three decades. Yet with the advent of the ‘kin-less family,’ many rising, young economic and political actors will no longer be able to count on blood ties in their quest to conduct secure transactions. “ [Ibid]
Image Sources: Nolls website, Beifan.com
Text Sources: CNTO, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated August 2012