China’s gender imbalance may take decades to resolve
Published: Dec 11, 2020 10:28 PM

Children play near a newly-built kindergarten in Pumaqangtang Township of Nagarze County in Shannan, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, April 16, 2020.  (Xinhua/Jigme Dorje)

China is faced with a huge gender imbalance, with the male population exceeding the female population by more than 30 million, data from China's National Bureau of Statistics shows. The imbalance in the post-2000s and population of marriageable age are even more urgent.

In 2019, the ages with the most imbalanced gender ratios (males per 100 females) in China were children aged 10-14 years and 15-19 years. In these two age groups, the gender ratios were 119.10 and 118.39, respectively, meaning there were about 120 men for every 100 women, data shows.

The gender imbalance will cause a marriage squeeze in 20 to 30 years especially in remote, rural and poor areas, and will also lead to a declining birth rate, Peng Xizhe, director of the Fudan University Center for Population and Development Policy Studies, told the Global Times.

The marriageable population is close to that of the post-2000s. The gender ratio among people aged 20-24 and 25-29 reached 114.61 and 106.65, respectively, indicating that at least one out of 11 men would not be able to get married with woman from same age groups.

Cross-national marriages and people flows in areas and ages could be a way to relieve the pressure on the marriage market, some experts suggested.

The gender imbalance in China's population has improved in recent years, with the gap narrowing from a record high 40.08 million in 2006 to 30.49 million in 2019.

Experts said the improvement comes from the aging tendency of the population and China's efforts to crack down on illegal identifying the gender of the fetus, and illegal gender selection.

Data shows that, in 2019, Sichuan Province became the only province to have more women than men, with its gender ratio at 96.7. Peng explained that the province has the highest aging population in China as it is the province with the largest outflow of young labors to other provinces. 

In China as a whole, women live an average of five years longer than men. Setting aside the imbalance in other age groups, as long as there are more elderly people in the population, the gender ratio will be narrower.

It is illegal in China to identify the gender before birth for non-medical purposes, or to terminate pregnancy for gender preference. "To address the gender imbalance at birth, the critical thing is to change people's 'son preference' concept," Peng noted.

A positive sign is, in 2019, the gender ratio of 0-4 years old in China was 113.62, which is significantly lower than 116.85 of 5-9 years old, and 114.52 of 0-4 years old in 2018.

Solving the gender imbalance will take time. "It will take about 50 to 60 years to slowly resolve the gender imbalance formed 20 to 30 years ago," Peng said.