China has criticized the growing number of women 30 and over who are unmarried. Calling them “left over women,” the Chinese government is trying to shame them into marriage. Yet if China wants to point fingers for this alarming demographic trend, it should first look at its own policies.
China’s one-child policy has been a success – for the short term. It reduced out-of-control population growth thirty years ago to a nation that will eventually be supplanted by India as the most populous in the world as China’s population begins to decline in less than thirty years. The process has kickstarted China down the path of prosperity.
Eventually, all wealthy countries see a declining birth rate. China was unique in creating that demographic before it became wealthy. For years, many have questioned how this social experiment will eventually turn out. The doubters point to the miracle growth of the Chinese economy as something that will not last. Ultimately, China will become old before it becomes rich.
The first signs of the unintended consequences of the one-child policy are beginning to be felt. From the age of 35 and under, males outnumber females in numbers out of proportion to nearly any other country in the world. Males currently outnumber females by 30 million for those under the age of 30. Boys are preferred by parents over girls so abortion by sex has become somewhat common, creating a demographic where 118 boys are born for every 100 girls. In children five years and under, China has about 41 million boys but only 35 million girls. That trend is only going to worsen.
Lacking an adequate social security system, China is going to face an enormous drain on its economy as its aging population reaches retirement. In a couple of decades, it will look more like Europe’s population but without the social structure to support it. In the past, children have taken care of their elderly parents. That worked fine when there were plenty of children, but the one child policy has changed that.
With an abundance of young men seeking a limited number of women, social tensions are beginning to form. Add in that many of the women around the age of 30 are remaining unmarried and the tens of millions of young men who can’t find a wife represents a real threat for social stability.
The Chinese government approved an article by the All-China Women’s Federation titled, “Leftover Women Do Not Deserve Our Sympathy.” In China, if you are an unmarried woman over the age of 30, you are considered a “leftover.” The article is loaded with sexist language that isn’t appealling to these well-educated women.
“Pretty girls do not need a lot of education to marry into a rich and powerful family. But girls with an average or ugly appearance will find it difficult,” stated the article.
Although Chinese men tend to marry downward, and that makes it difficult for well-educated Chinese women to find husbands, what has happened is that girls who grow up as only children are getting a chance at an education they never had before. They don’t have to take the first suitor that comes along. They can choose who they want to spend their lives.
In many ways, the tables have turned. It is men who must take the first woman who comes along because there may not be a second. For Chinese society, still resting on its paternalistic foundations, this will have profound effects that the Chinese government has not fully realized.
Trying to shame women into marriage by calling them “ugly” is not going to change the mighty and new social forces that China has unveiled. Nations that are more prosperous have had generations to deal with their changing demographics and still do not have a handle on it. China’s situation is condensed and even more explosive. Nations like Japan and Italy are having enough problems dealing with a declining population. At least they didn’t need to worry about an out-of-balance male to female ratio.