The Crisis of China’s 30 Million Bachelors

21 Feb


Due to a combination of rapid reduction in fertility levels, and the introduction of the one-child policy in 1979, China’s longstanding gender preference towards sons has become exacerbated since the 1970s.

Whilst the sex ratio at birth fell within “normal” boundaries, at 105 men for every 100 girls in 1964, the gender ratio has become increasingly skewed in the last 3 decades. In 2011 it stood at 113:100 males to females at birth, peaking to 117:100 for Children age 0-14, and had reached a shocking 150 males for 100 females in some regions. This severe gender distortion has been facilitated by the growth of bleak practices such as sex-selective abortions, female infanticide or neglect.

The implications of this highly skewed gender ratio on the demographic composition of China today are in line with those predicted by Amartya Sen back in 1990. Far more Chinese males have been and are still being born than females.

Experts predict that by 2020, this extreme gender distortion will have led to a supply of lifelong bachelors roughly the size of Texas. Some villages, such as Gao Po have been referred to as ‘bachelor’ villages due to their large supply of unmarried men, whose changes at finding a wife grow thinner each year. A shaky pension system and no family to financially support them during old age leaves the future bleak and filled with uncertainty for millions of men across China.

Yet, it is not only Chinese men who have been hurt by the country’s severe gender distortion. Dire consequences have been inflicted on millions of Chinese women who have either been sold by their families into marriages with “left over” men, or kidnapped and trafficked across the country to become brides of poorer Chinese bachelors. More crime and sexual violence against women has also been reported as a result of the male surplus.

Can the situation be mended?

Chinese officials have already considered reversing the One Child policy. Some research has suggested that if it were to happen, this policy change could circumvent many of the social problems that have arisen since its introduction. The Government has also repeatedly attempted to raise the status of women as a way to equalize gender preferences for children; however this has not been successful.

The preferences for sons and low fertility have now become culturally embedded throughout China, and consequentially the gender ratio at birth will inevitably take several decades to correct itself. At which point the crisis would have become severe; the most gender distorted generation of all – the children born in the last decade- will have reached marriage age.

The Chinese government may therefore have shot themselves in the foot by introducing policies intended to facilitate GDP growth and improve the economic welfare of its citizens, whilst overlooking their future social welfare.

In the case of the millions of unmarried men in China, unfortunately it may be too little too late.

Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women.  (2004). A rights-based approach to trafficking. Alliance News, 22:3-77.

L, Min. (2011) Migration, Prostitution and Human Trafficking: The Voice of Chinese Women, The British Journal of Criminology, 52(4): 834-838

A Ebenstein (2010) The missing girls of China and the Unintended Consequences of the One-Child Policy, Human Resources, 45(1): 87-115


One Response to “The Crisis of China’s 30 Million Bachelors”

  1. Zoe Skousbo February 24, 2013 at 11:01 pm #

    Coupled with China’s increasingly ageing population the surplus of males in the country, that is a direct result of the 1979 One Child Policy is a worrying social problem. With a reported thirty million bachelors and with some regions reporting a gender ratio of 150 males to 100 females the situation could produce serious repercussions that need to be addressed by the government. Fears of increasing amounts of sexual assaults are already becoming a reality and the situation is ideal for sex-traffickers who exploit the female deficit, providing wives to desperate men through acts of kidnapping. As marriage is a status symbol in China, the surplus of men creates much room for social disorder and the gender imbalance is being blamed for China’s growing crime rate. This gender problem is not unique to China and is prevalent in other parts of Asia including India and Korea, with families traditionally preferring male over female children so the family’s lineage can be continued. In China however, the gender imbalance is much more worrying due to the governments controversial single child initiatives that for over thirty years has made female infanticide a tragic yet economically viable option for much of the country’s rural poor.

    Attempts so far made by the government have produced little result and seemingly the only way of readdressing the balance is a reversal of the one child. Sex selection technologies, which have always been illegal in China, are less sought after than they once were and in some parts of the country where the gender problem is at its most strident the once rigidly enforced single child policy is being relaxed. Other initiatives include exemption from school fees for girls and cash incentives from the government. Yet these initiatives may be too little too late as the gender gap is projected to expand to forty million by 2020, adding to the growing transient population and making the closing of the demographic imbalance an even harder task to achieve.


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