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Chris Zheng

New Report Warns ‘Leftover’ Men and Women of Dangers: Chinese Ask, ‘Who’s to Blame?’

China's 'leftover men' are more likely to be low-earning workers from rural areas (via  Flickr/SimonQ錫濛譙)
China’s ‘leftover men’ are more likely to be low-income workers from rural areas (via Flickr/SimonQ錫濛譙)

The issue of “leftover” women – those deemed by society to be past the ideal age for marriage – has continued to spark fierce debate among China’s netizens. Recent coverage has shifted somewhat, widening in scope to include – and sometimes highlight – China’s “bachelor crisis.”

Recently, Sohu, one of China’s largest online news websites, published an infographic entitled “Men and Women in Danger,” shedding more light on the predicament allegedly faced by middle-aged men and women who are unmarried. Compiling data from the 2010 national census and several recent news articles, the infographic offers an ominous outlook for China’s approximately 12 million bachelors and 6 million bachelorettes between the ages of 30 and 39.

Sohu noted, “Recently, media have revealed that the ‘bare branch’ [bachelor] crisis is greater than the ‘leftover women’ issue, as the former greatly increases the risk of social instability“光棍”危机大于“剩女”问题,大大增加社会不稳定风险。.” This problem has become especially acute in China due to the increasingly skewed gender ratio – in 2012, 117 males were born for every 100 females. Many Chinese men already report an inability to find a wife. By 2020, their ranks could increase to as many as 30 million.

The infographic points out what many netizens intuitively understand – that although “leftover” men and women share the same conundrum, they come from vastly different places in society. “Leftover” women tend to be highly educated professionals living in coastal cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, while their male counterparts are more often low-income wage earners from less-developed provinces.

The wide gap between the two groups may be attributed to traditional social conceptions regarding marriage, in which the husband is expected to hold more economic power than the wife. Under these norms, men tend to marry one step down the socio-economic ladder. Therefore, the most successful women and the least successful men are left behind.

In the comments section following the infographic, netizens bickered over the true culprit behind the problem. Some male netizens claimed that “leftover” women deserved to be alone due to their unrealistically high standards. Others lamented widening social inequality and materialism, citing the common expectation that grooms own an apartment and a car before marriage, a difficult goal to reach in most urban areas.

Despite their disagreements, netizens almost uniformly blamed China’s one-child policy for distorting the gender ratio. Sohu user 静轩水月5720273 commented: “The one-child policy has been in practice for over 30 years. Many rural people chose to have abortions every time they conceived a female child, and now their sons can’t find wives. This is what they get for killing babies!30多年的计划生育,很多农村人只要怀了女孩就打掉,现在儿子找不到老婆开心了吧!杀胎儿,是会遭报应!遭天谴

Interestingly, although netizens were highly critical of the one child policy, few focused on the traditional gender norms that produced the preference for male children in the first place. In fact, almost none of the commenters questioned the male breadwinner family model that underlies the “leftover” issue.

On Sina Weibo, @牛奶咖啡的海角, a user who shared a similar Sohu infographic on the “leftover” population, remarked:

The truth isn’t that most “leftover women” are trying to find men who are of a higher status than they are, but rather that most men, due to their upbringing, are more willing to marry women of a lower status. Women, due to their disadvantaged position, are quicker to realize [this inequality]. The more educated a woman is, the deeper her desire for equality, and therefore it becomes harder for her to find a suitable mate有一点搞错了,也不知是谁的臆断,事实是大部分‘剩女’不是要找比自己高一级的男性,而是大部分男性从小受的熏陶是男人要处于主导地位,平等地位的好处从无机会体验,因此更愿意找比自己低的女士。而女性实际上一直处于弱势从而觉醒的比较早,因此越高端越有平等意识,因此很难找到和拍的男性.

China’s not-so-young bachelors and bachelorettes may have little in common in terms of socioeconomic status, but ultimately, they are both victims of gender inequality – “leftover” men find themselves without wives to marry because society preferred them to their sisters, while “leftover” women are deemed unsuitable for marriage because they successfully broke out of their traditional gender role.

While the acute demographic crisis facing China’s single men and social stigma facing its single women have not yet caused widespread questioning of traditional gender norms, increased coverage of China’s “bachelor crisis” alongside that of “leftover women” has the potential to reframe the issue, shifting blame at least partially away from women, and to an underlying societal preference for men.

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Chris Zheng

Chris remembers vividly the overnight train rides of his childhood that took him across China. He lived in New Haven briefly as a kid, where he went Easter egg hunting on the Green. After graduating from high school in Shanghai, he returned to New Haven for college. He is currently a Yale junior.
  • hotandbothered

    W.e need a war

    • Bob Newman

      Most likely a civil war.

  • Sol

    The story also can explain why more and more well-educated Chinese women are marrying foreigners, who may care more about a woman’s inner beauty, instead of trying to find a woman to only form a male breadwinner family model when “marriage age” has come…. Chinese men have to know what is confidence from mind, instead of showing his manhood only through earning more money. But how to achieve that? Well obviously the current society does not give them an education about individualism and true confidence….

    • Jun Wang

      you said that many women care inner beauty and marry foreigners? but many foreigners in China are less well educated, or even less human. we for individualism or confidence, it comes from within, the practise of intellect, intelligence, the human reason, logic, observation, sensing power… most women I know in Shanghai have almost no inner beauty but take advantage of their outer beauty, they are probably educated with skills, but they are not educated to use their intellect or consicience, this is also true with men also. Chinese men are not showing off their money, they work really hard, and they are forced to earn money to buy flats and cars to marry as so many women want them. the one who want to show off and got involved in the rat race are women of no social experience or the taste of life/humanity, not men. as long as men work hard and experience lots of frustritions, they know what life and humanity well.

      most men I know dont have manhood, women at 30s, unmarried are of strong manhood, dominance psyche, controling type, and they are also aggressive to other pretty women younger than them or married women who are happier than them., and men little bit womanish actually. married women are very tender…

      • Koko

        most women I know in Shanghai have almost no inner beauty but take advantage of their outer beauty?
        Why Shanghai becomes the target again? So unfair! I know many women in Shanghai (born Shanghainese by the way) who are much more excellent in work and life than men in general. And I think many men accuse women of being materialistic because they can only see materialistic in women by their eyes!

      • No Wonder

        “are less well educated, or even less human.”

        You sound like another rabid Chinese racist with insecurity issues towards male foreigners… left overs anyone?

    • parvizr

      That’s great and all, but when it comes to supporting the family I think most Chinese women will find that a dependable, breadwinning husband beats the “charming” foreigner anyday.

  • http://www.theatlantic.com/wendy-qian/ Wendy

    “China’s not-so-young bachelors and bachelorettes may have little in common in
    terms of socioeconomic status, but ultimately, they are both victims of gender inequality.” Well said!

    Scholars have researched on female infanticide in China, especially in the rural areas, since the 1920s (such as sociologist Fei Xiaotong). Sad that these things still happen in both China and India.

    • iLysistrata

      I agree that gender inequality is one of the primary driving factors behind such “demographic crisis”, but I wouldn’t put it as the ultimate factor. Gender, SES, urban-rural divide, among other systems of oppression, intersects to form the current configuration of the “single population” in China. While the phenomenon of bachelors unmistakably results from the prevalent male-preference practices in China, it’s also important to examine the social stratification among men, and long with that, the “sexual privilege” of upper-/middle-class men. With that said, I would argue that the author’s concluding remarks, while challenging traditional gender norms, risk reinforcing class-based or region-based discrimination, as what could be implied in that “reframing of issue” is really a shift of blame away from middle-class, well-educated, urban women to societal preference for men especially in rural areas.

  • thomas

    maybe the age is another factor to be considered seriously.Now is the time for many post-80s to find his or her companions and then the post-90s.This group of people are more educated and more intelligent than their parents in choosing their another half.Above all,their desire for freedom to lead their own lives without the interference from their parents.

  • Wang Wang

    If China legalized same sex marriage, would this solve the issue of left-over singles? Thanks for commenting. Wang Wang

  • sistrunkqueen

    I think its their lack of social graces that are keeping the Chinese men single. Have you seen a Chinese man in public ? They blow their noses in their hands, cough with their mouths open and sneeze on strangers. They piss in public places and don’t wash their hands. They can be very nasty and loud too. I know I live in Anhui province.

  • girdyerloins

    Eye-opening piece. My experience with Chinese women, thus far, has yielded somewhat different views. While the male preference, not unlike that of Latin America, my home, is largely to blame for the gender imbalance, the sense of entitlement many men have has, I’m led to understand, contributed greatly to women’s dissatisfaction. Of the four women I am close to, two have children who have little or no memory of their father, dad having been either invited to leave or left to try his luck elsewhere for a son. Three are over 40 and one is 30 and ALL of them cite a general level of boorishness on the part of men as the principle reason they abhor Chinese men. Even men who could be considered reasonably well-educated come under fire, as it seems their emotional development lags far behind that of the women. I met a couple of men in China who I wouldn’t mind befriending-and I’m rather particular, myself-but my sample is insignificant. Three of my friends make no bones about their preferences for sex, either and do not hesitate to proclaim the men they have been with as inept, in addition to the previous complaint.
    I caution them that men from other countries, like myself, do not come with seals of approval from some organization or other and that they will likely encounter similar problems from outside China.
    Cultural differences aside, though, I know(because my younger friend works for an online dating service) don’t amount to much for people who are inclined to see similarities, not difference. I know for a fact that’s why they are my friends.
    And that’s another thing. These women I have met are comfortable with being good friends. REALLY good friends. Such that I wonder why, in my life in the west, as gregarious as I am, I have only one lady friend surviving from childhood.
    Chinese women, in spite of seeking and finding equality, still understand the essential value of maintaining close friendships, probably stemming from the cultural networkind skills involved in guanxi and have no problem integrating any modern views of relationships with age-old Chinese methods of socialization. I could be wrong, but I suspect all these well-educated, professional and increasingly wealthy women will someday call some shots that Chinese men will need to step up to.
    I, for one, wish them all good luck.

  • Nett Ugla

    I would love to have a chinese husband that do not think of me as an expence, I would love him for what he is!

  • Eddie Coyle

    Sad story. The modern world came with medicine, vaccinations, inoculations against disease, better food, cleaner water, and better health practices. Many countries ignorantly continue to have unsustainable birth rates as a result. At least China stepped up and dealt with the problem, however imperfectly. Much harder to adapt culturally to the upheaval, but preferable to famines, disease and war.