Male doctoral students become leftovers in China’s marriage market

By He Keyao Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/17 17:43:39

Men pursuing doctoral degrees in their late 20s and early 30s find it hard to find a girlfriend as prolonged education makes their social circle smaller and reduces their income. Photo: Li Hao/GT

What is the first impression that comes to mind when talking about a male PhD student - knowledgeable, smart or a nerd? Most people would not expect that highly educated people would be associated with disadvantages in the marriage market. However, that is the reality for many men who have been pursuing high academic achievements.

Recently the status quo of male doctoral students in the marriage market in China has been put under the spotlight as a 30-year-old PhD student was reported to be swindled out of more than 7,000 yuan ($1,032) by a girl he met on a dating website. Shouldering the pressure from family and with the urgent desire to get married, the man was fooled by the swindler. The news stirred hot discussion on China's social media, with many claiming that those in the higher academic groups are particularly vulnerable or even disadvantaged.

"Being single is quite common in my circle, and it's kind of hard to find someone suitable," said Wang Wei (pseudonym), a PhD student majoring in forestry. Studying in one of the top universities in Beijing, he will graduate this year. He said that one-third of his fellow male students are single, and the proportion is slightly higher than that of their female counterparts. His observation echoes many who say that the percentage of single PhD students is high. Metropolitan spoke to some of them and women who dated male PhD students to find out the possible reasons for the phenomenon.

Economic status before graduation

"Isn't it obvious enough? It's about money," said John Fang, 29, a PhD student in Beijing who will graduate in two years. He thinks that one of the biggest disadvantages for PhD students is their economic status.

Fang had a girlfriend and the couple had been together for three years. They enjoyed being together and started to consider marriage last year as both of them were approaching 30. However, his plan for a happy married life turned out to be a failure when the mother of his ex-girlfriend insisted that he purchase an apartment.

"She told me several times that I need to have an economic basis for the new family and that a place of our own is a must," he said. However, Fang is still living on campus pursuing his degree and has limited income. Even if his family helped him with the down payment, he cannot afford the house loan, given the high housing prices in the capital.

Fang wanted to postpone the purchase until after graduation when he can find a job. However, an extra two years or possibly longer was far too much time for the girl to wait, and the couple finally said goodbye.

"It's almost unavoidable. To complete a PhD program is time-consuming and you step into society and start to work much later than your peers," said Fang. He decided to focus, finish his studies and put off dating until after graduation.

In fact, Fang's case is not uncommon. Prolonged education for doctoral students generates an inevitable disadvantage in terms of an economic foundation. Moreover, many of those students have been studying from the first day they attended school until the doctoral level, which results in a lack of both social and working experience compared with their peers. As he approaches 30, Fang sometimes finds his plight embarrassing.

You Juanyang, a financial analyst echoes Fang's opinion.

"I think one of the biggest issues that male PhD students face is their economic condition. They have to invest their youth in academic pursuit and that doesn't always guarantee a profitable job, which can be a problem," she said. Over the years, she also witnessed some of her friends in PhD programs fail in relationships for similar reasons.

Moreover, she stressed that strong academic ability is not highly valued in the job market nowadays. Therefore, many PhD students will face difficulties finding a suitable job after graduation, which could further put them in an adverse position in the marriage market.

"It's a structural problem in our education system that doesn't match with the real needs of the job market," she said.

Male doctoral students face disadvantages in the marriage market as they step into society years later than their peers. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Looking for a spiritual match

Generally, a higher education means marrying later, and many PhD students attach growing importance on a spiritual match as time passes by. Wang is one of them.

"As your horizon has been widened and you have a more insightful vision of the world, you are more willing to find a real soul mate and less likely to make any compromise in a spiritual match. I think that's one of the reasons that many doctoral students remain single," Wang said.

Wang used to have a happy relationship with a female doctoral student. The two got to know each other due to their common love of football. With a similar educational background and mindsets, the two found each other a perfect match and soon fell in love. However, the romance faded away a year later as the two went to different countries to study. Like many couples, long-distance relationships do not work out, and Wang did not find anyone else after the relationship ended.

Moreover, Wang is now more cautious about finding a date as he needs to consider marriage and he does not think he has much time to waste on a relationship that is not likely to lead to wedlock. The cautiousness makes it harder for him to fall into a casual romance.

"Another reason is that our social circle is too small and it makes it harder for doctoral students to find a date," Wang said, adding that most of his fellow schoolmates spend their days and nights in labs and offices doing research, and they have limited chances to meet girls outside their academic circle.

Watershed effect

Liu Qi (pseudonym), a PhD graduate from a top Chinese university in Tianjin, now works in the electricity industry. He agrees that the small social circle is an obstacle for people in doctoral programs to meet dates, which causes a "watershed effect," a marked turning point in one's marital status in the group.

"The dividing line is when you step into a doctoral program. It's a like a watershed and you'd better have a stable relationship before that. If not, you are most likely going to be leftover," Liu said. He found that most of his schoolmates who were not single found their other half before they started their higher academic pursuit, say usually during their postgraduate or undergraduate studies.

"The ratio of single male doctoral students is not that high, but it is hard for a PhD student to change their single status."

He said that the limited social circle means they only have two main channels to find love - on campus and blind dates. For the former category, the girls they meet are often from the same doctoral program and there are fewer of them, plus many of them are already off the market; for the latter category, those dates, often introduced by their friends or family, are outside the campus and have already been working for a while. These women tend to have more social experience and appear to be more sophisticated and mature than their male dates.

"People on campus tend to be more innocent and naïve compared with those already out in the workforce. In a long-lasting relationship, if it is the girl who is more reserved, then it's fine. But if it is the man who is less mature, then it's embarrassing," Liu said.

Xu Zichen, who is in a doctoral program and will graduate in two years, agrees. He said single working women and male PhD students do not match in terms of social experience. Even though there are many so-called leftover women in their late 20s and early 30s in metropolitans like Beijing, it seems irrelevant for single doctoral students, according to him.

Moreover, Xu said the increasingly stricter policies and growing criteria on graduation mean that many students cannot graduate on time and the majority face delays with their plan to get out of school, which scares off many potential dates.

You agrees with Xu. You's boyfriend is a fresh PhD graduate from Tsinghua University. 

"This year only one-fourth of my boyfriend's class graduated and the rest of the students needed to continue their academic journey. Things are really getting harder for them," You said.

However, You stressed that a doctoral graduate has a more thoughtful mind with broader knowledge and a hard-working nature, which can be appealing to girls.

"Some girls like knowledgeable men, while some pay more attention to other aspects. So it depends on individual preference," You holds that men with doctoral degrees have their own strengths in the marriage market that hedge the disadvantages, such as economic condition.

Wang Yue, the wife of a man with a doctoral degree, adds that the public stereotypes against PhD students are not grounded.

"They are not scientific geeks or nerds; they have their own interests and hobbies. They are just like everyone else, but with more knowledge, stronger logic ability and a deeper understanding of the subject or field they are working on," she said.

Newspaper headline: Doctoral degree disadvantages


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