Backgrounder: Demographic Issues in China

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By Skylar Nafziger  

In China, men outnumbered women by a remarkable 115 men for every 100 women last year, equating to an excess of nearly 33 million men. The problem can be attributed to China’s “one-child” policy, exercised until 2015 with the intention of combating the surging population that imposed many social and economic issues. Cultural norms surrounding efforts to maintain the family lineage led to a preference for male children, ultimately sparking gender imbalance by causing an increase in gender-based abortions and adoptions. 

The increasingly noticeable shortage of women in China has created massive pressure for men and their immediate families as they near the marrying age. In some instances, men and their parents have become so desperate for a marriage that parents directly assist in their son’s search, making financial and social sacrifices in finding him a wife.

This demographic shift has also created change within the Chinese economy. Men are rapidly ordering the construction of houses in the hopes that it might make them a more attractive candidate for marriage, a trend which has caused house prices to skyrocket. In addition, men have become more willing to accept work in harsher conditions.

These demographic shifts have also caused a trade surplus. Men are less eager to purchase consumer goods, preferring to put their money towards the production of a home, perhaps, or to paying a dowry to his potential in-laws. The values of dowries have increased, sometimes up to as much as $30,000 USD, as women become more and more “in-demand.”

Unfortunately, there are also very real dangers that accompany this domestic gender gap. Women from other countries around the world — predominantly Cambodia, Russia, and Vietnam — have begun to look to China in their efforts to marry, particularly those coming from an area of poverty and seeking someone to provide for them. These trends have increased the risk of human trafficking in these areas

Between the years 2013 and 2017, an estimation of approximately 21,000 women were forcibly transported from Myanmar to China and sold as brides. Not only did these women anticipate being united with a loving husband, but many were also promised jobs. Little action has been taken by law enforcement at the border or within China, creating conditions where human trafficking has only escalated. With minimal help from state agencies, women and girls must take it upon themselves to escape from the detrimental situations they are in. In some instances, women have successfully turned to social media as a way to get in contact with the outside world, but even the women who do make it back home often struggle enormously to recover from the abuse they faced.  

The logical and the most beneficial response to the demographic gender gap in China would be to foster a national environment where women are valued the same as men. Repealing the one-child policy was a good first step, but the rights of women continue to be violated within the current context. Furthermore, since an increasing number of men are failing to marry, the fear Chinese families must face when it comes to losing their lineage is even more prominent.

Photo courtesy of Mitch Altman (Flickr).

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