More than 30 million Chinese men will be lifetime bachelors by 2020 thanks to years of abnormally high gender imbalance at birth


Chinese Society  Updated:Fri, Aug 2, 2013 08:31 AM   By Bernd Chang


Sex ratio at birth,Gender imbalance

A man holds a banner on his back saying "I am looking for woman to marry". More Chinese men are expected to employ such crazy measure to look for women to marry as competition will be much fiercer in ten years. 

Approximately 30-35 million Chinese men will not be able to find a wife by 2020 due to years of abnormally high sex ratio at birth resulting from the preference for sons, one-child policy and sex-selective abortion, Chinese media reported June 28th, 2013.

Normally the sex ratio at birth stands between 102 to 107 to every 100 girls, but in China the sex ratio has remained averagely 120 for the last two decades, with some provinces recording highest figure up to 140 in some years.

The abnormal sex ratio at birth was observed only after early 1980s when China introduced strict one-child policy. In 1982, the sex ratio at birth was 108.47, which is slightly higher than normal. The sex ratio started to climb gradually and by 2000 it had soared to 120 and in 2004 it was at record high 121.20. In 2012 the ratio fell slightly to 117.7, the Yanzhao Metropolis Daily reported on June 30,2013.

But we can expect the real gender imbalance problem is even higher, since the Chinese officials are used to covering unfavorable truth and fabricating statistics. 

China to have at least 30 million bachelors by 2020

The effects of the gender imbalance starts to emerge in China as more and more Chinese men can not find a spouse especially in the countryside. And it is estimated that by 2020 about 30 to 35 million Chinese men will be “excessive men” that are destined to be lifetime bachelor. 

Gender imbalance map

Map showing China's gender gap trending (unit: 100 million)

Mr. Zhai Zhenwu, the dean of society and population college of the Renmin University of China, said one of the obvious phenomenon will be "marriage squeeze":

The single men will look for girls in the younger age group. Five years later when all the girls in the same age group are married out, the single men in cities will look for girls in countryside and those in the countryside will look for spouses in even poorer areas. The final result will lie in two phenomena: one is that the age gap between husband and wife is larger and larger, the other is that more and more men will be lifetime bachelors with more in poorer areas.  

And it is expected that the excess of men will lead to increased sexual violence, general crime and social instability.

Professor Yang Juhua in Renmin University of China explained the reason why the sex ratio at birth is so high in China.  

Yang Juhua listed three factors: the traditional preference for sons, one child policy and sex selective abortion as the causes for the severe gender imbalance problem in China. 

And the preference for sons is the fundamental cause, the one-child policy is the accelerator and the sex-selective abortion technology makes it come true.

For the reason why many Chinese family is in favor of the son, Yang said it is a tradition and dates back to centuries ago. China is traditionally a patriarchal society. Traditionally, the bloodline passes through the male side. Women also "marry out", joining their husband's families and looking after their in-laws, not their own parents. For a long time, a son was your pension. Having a girl was wasteful. 

In a country where social security system is extremely weak especially in the countryside, living alone without adult children taking care of them at side, the old parents will have no sense of security at all.

And in the modern day China, the preference for son is still quite reasonable: the gender equality is not achieved at all and sex discrimination is obvious in many aspects.

How China tries to fix the sex ratio imbalance

Chinese government is always some step slower than they should. It is until 2002 when the sex ratio at birth became alarmingly high at 120 did the Chinese government take their first action: forbid sex-selective abortion across the country. 

In 2003, Chinese government introduced the program of caring for girls and in 2005 they even established a team for nationwide care for girls.

But neither actions prove to be effective in bring sex ratio to normal level. Chinese government has  ledged to get tougher, launching new drives against sex-selective abortion. Institutions, as well as individuals, will be held responsible for breaches; the worst offenders risk having their medical licences withdrawn.

But as some experts point out that cracking down on illegal foetal sex testing and sex-selective abortions is very important and effective, but medical staff often find ways to indicate a baby's sex, despite the law. They may nod or shake their head instead of leaving any evidence to indicate that parents have achieved their goal or must continue efforts to have a boy.

And the care-for-girls program is even of no meaning since it does not affect any of the three factors causing the sex ratio abnormality problem. 

Since the traditional preference for sons is not to die down overnight, some Chinese experts think China should stop the rigid one-child policy. But professor Yang Juhua argued that cancellation of the one-child policy will probably alleviate the problem in some extent, but can not bring the gender imbalance to normal from the root.

But maybe we can have a try and see how much effect the cancellation of one-child policy can have in solving the problem? And maybe we can also establish a solid social security system covering the entire nation so that the parents of the girl will not worry about their living after their daughter is married out? 

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