Single rural Chinese men are having a hard time to find a wife due to gender imbalance
Published: May 21, 2021 01:18 AM
Family members await the start of the wedding in a village in Zouping county, Shandong Province. File Photo: CFP

Family members await the start of the wedding in a village in Zouping county, Shandong Province. File Photo: CFP

Wang Xiao , a 33-year-old worker at a clothing factory in East China's Jiangsu Province, has very low self-esteem for not having married at this age. Coming from a small village in Central China's Henan Province, he has been longing to find a suitable partner for nearly nine years. 

"When people ask me whether I am married or not, I feel very angry; I shout at them 'none of your business,' but actually I'm very worried. Maybe I will be single for the rest of my life." Wang told the Global Times.

Rural men of marriageable age are having difficulties to find a spouse which is an increasingly visible problem in today's Chinese society, demographers and marriage experts found. China's latest national population census shows that there are 17.52 million more men of marriageable age between 20 and 40 than women.

This means that a large number of Chinese men may not be able to find a wife, said Xu Tianli, head of the Shanghai Marriage Introduction Organization Administration Association, adding that "most of them live in rural areas." 

A survey on 267 villages in all 31 provinces in the Chinese mainland showed that, single men and women accounted for 5.92 percent and 3.62 percent respectively. In other words, there were 63 single women for every 100 single men, according to the survey conducted by the Central China Normal University in 2017.

The gap in the number of marriageable men and women has put pressure on many men, particularly in many rural regions, where people tend to prefer boys to girls, said Liu Zhijun, Deputy Director of the Social Science Experiment Center of Zhejiang University. "Women in these areas are usually fewer than men as a result of selective abortion in the past decades," Liu told the Global Times.

'Precious resources'

Single men in rural villages and towns are struggling to find a wife, observers found. Some villages in lesser-developed provinces, including Shanxi, Shaanxi and Guizhou, were even dubbed as "bachelors villages" for their high population of single men. 

Experts analyzed that apart from selective abortion, young women leaving their hometowns for more developed areas is another reason leading to the decrease of women in rural regions. Not willing to marry at a young age and raise children in their hometown, these women want to look for a better life and a bigger world, they told the Global Times.

"The marriage market in China has a tradition of 'women marrying men with higher income,'" Liu said. "Men from rural areas, from poor families and low education background are naturally not that attractive to women, whether in rural or urban areas."

The few rural young women who do not flee to the cities then become the most precious resource in local marriage market. 

The high competition between men also pushed up the price of brides in rural areas, a kind of reverse dowry that men pay to the family of their future bride. The price of a bride in Jiaocun town was reported to be between 150,000 yuan ($23,295) and 200,000 yuan in 2017, and it "continues to rise by 10,000-20,000 yuan each year." 

Per capita net income in Jiaocun town, by contrast, was less than 8,000 yuan in 2016, the Global Times reporter found. 

A single man in a village in Putian, East China's Fujian Province, said that price for a local bride is around 180,000 yuan. A man named Hu told the Global Times that, on top of the price for the bride, he has to give "some gold ornaments (which) I can't afford" and he added that "if the day to get married comes, I think I may borrow some money from my relatives, or from the bank." 

Wang said the bride price in his village is at least 100,000 yuan. The amount was not obstacle to him, Wang told the Global Times, saying that he has saved more than 200,000 yuan through years of hard work. "For me the problem is that there are not enough single women in my hometown and nearby villages," he said.

Wang recalled that two years ago, a matchmaker introduced him to a divorced woman with a child. "I hesitated for a while and accepted, but the woman was unwilling [to accept me] and left. I felt sad for a long time."

Few matchmakers accept to help men aged above 25 unless they have a good family condition or a decent income, or "at least handsome looks," Wang said. "If one's appearance is average, and education background or family condition are not that good, one will be easily left," he sighed.

Some scholars worry that the large number of single men in rural areas can be a potential risk to local social stability. "This may lead to higher risks of local sexual crimes, especially those targeting children and women," Liu warned. "To meet their physical or emotional desires, some single men may also try to go to sex workers or engage in extramarital affairs," he added.

In 2019, a court in Fenghuang county, Central China's Hunan Province reported a case that shocked the public. The case involved a 50-year-old single man who kidnapped a 16-year-old female student and kept her as sex slave for 24 days in a hole he dug in his home. According to the court, being single for a long time had made the man mentally distorted and unstable, published in March 2019.

Economic problem

The reason for the difficulties for men in rural areas to get married, is economic, said Liu Wenrong, an Associate Research Fellow at the Institute of Sociology under the Shanghai Academy of Social Science (SASS).

"In most cases, relatively impoverished people who can neither afford the price of a bride nor raise a family are among the first groups being left over in the marriage market," Liu Wenrong told the Global Times.

To ease the financial burden on young people of getting married, regional governments across China are working on cracking down the inflated prices paid for brides. In Changzhi, North China's Shanxi Province, the bride price was limited no more than 50,000 yuan; in Shangqiu, Central China's Henan Province, the local government mandated that the bride must return a part of the money paid for the bride to the bridegroom's family, local media reported.

However, Hu is not optimistic about the regulation from the government, which he thinks "can't work well in practice. Several men competing for a woman is still common in villages, and the bride price remains an important part of the competition that women will definitely take into account," he said.

Boosting the income and improving the living standard of local people is a fundamental solution to this dilemma in rural areas, Liu Wenrong pointed out. In the past few years, some single men in rural "bachelors' villages" successfully found wives after they increased their income thanks to China's poverty alleviation projects.

In Longtan village, in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, a former poverty-stricken village where half of local men aged above 35 could not find a wife, now sees more than 20 marriages each year, Xinhua News Agency reported in February. The local government helped villagers to build new houses and trained them to raise bees, grow herbs or lead them into the hospitality business to make money.

Some regional governments also tried to reverse the gender imbalance through attracting young women to the villages. 

In Horqin Right Wing Middle Banner of North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, local authorities have actively engaged in the development of traditional Mongolian embroidery industry, not only attracting female university students returning to their hometown to work, but also creating more opportunities for local single men to find spouses.

"We have provided employment opportunities for newly graduates with a low entry threshold and good pay which has also helped to address a prominent social problem of single men in rural areas looking for wives," Bai Jingying, Director of the Standing Committee of the People' s Congress, and leader of a Mongolian embroidery group, told the Global Times.

Since 2016, with the support of the local authorities, Bai has organized more than 100 Mongolian embroidery classes in 173 villages. 26,000 women, including 82 college students who had studied outside the Banner, have received free training and are now working with local enterprises to earn their living.

"The girls return home mainly out of familiarity and attachment to their home culture, so most of them work hard and prefer to find local men to date and raise a new family in the place where they are most comfortable," Yang Fulin, Chairman of the Association of Poverty Alleviation Service for College Students Entrepreneurship and Employment in Horqin Right Wing Middle Banner, told the Global Times.

Yang noted that in the past, there was a large number of impoverished people and many young women dreamed of leaving the grasslands. Now, with the development of embroidery industry, such a dilemma no longer exists.

Since 2019, Pingshun county in Changzhi of Shanxi Province, established an e-commerce service center to develop live sales and recruited several live streaming hostesses to sell local agricultural products, including medicinal plants and millet, on multiple e-commerce platforms such as Taobao, Douyin and Kuaishou.

"Many of the female anchors that came to our village found the business opportunities and the simplicity of the villagers and rapidly fell in love with the local boys," Niujia, Secretary of Longzhen village, in Pingshun county, told the Global Times.

Niu pointed out that there were several romantic stories between anchorwomen and their local suppliers, adding that with the development of e-commerce, their village has changed from a backward and poor place to a relatively rich one. As its reputation spreads further and further, more young girls will come to work and settle down.

Diverse marriages

Voices calling for more diverse forms of marriage are emerging. 

A "modern style of marriage" that is popular among single-child rural families in East China, for instance, caused heated debate on Chinese social media last December. In this kind of marriage, the couple lives apart, each with their parents, and, if they have two children, one takes the mother's family name and the other the father's.

Many people, especially women, have hailed this kind of marriage saying it focuses more on the rights of women, such as the right to give children their own surnames in a male-dominated society.

Additionally, demographers have raised calls to further ease restrictions on transnational marriage to encourage foreigners, especially women from neighboring countries like Vietnam and Cambodia, to marry Chinese citizens. "If foreign spouses are granted the rights enjoyed by Chinese citizens, more foreigners might be willing to settle in China," said Zhou Haiwang, Deputy Director of the Institute of Population and Development under the SASS.

Official data showed China's gender ratio imbalance kept decreasing slightly in recent years, dropping from 117.94 in 2010 to 110.14 in 2019. Liu Zhijun predicted that the problem of single rural Chinese men finding a spouse will be alleviated in the coming years with the adjustment of the birth policy and the further balance of the sex ratio.

"But marriage and choice of a partner is a process of social competition," Liu Zhijun noted. "It's normal that some men might be eliminated in this process." 

"What the government needs to do is prevent this problem from developing into extreme events by providing these single men with more social relief services and more care in their twilight years if they are lonely without a family," he suggested.