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Published on Dec 12, 2012 in China

Part II: Bridging the gender gap in China – too many single men!

populationThe population explosion within China became most prevalent around 1949 when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came into power. The CCP was against birth control and also the use of contraceptives. Mao Zedong wanted the population of China to grow. He believed that a large population would increase the nation’s wealth by increasing the labor pool for both manufacturing and agriculture. He did not seem to believe or understand that he would eventually outgrow his resources, no matter how large the labor pool.

As China saw its population begin to skyrocket, it recognized that this rapid population growth wasfast out-stripping its ability to provide the social and economic development necessary to support such a population. Natural resources were being rapidly depleted and unemployment was rising. Something had to be done. Therefore, in a reversal of policy, the government finally realized that it had to decrease the population growth.   From 1952 to 2008, the population of China increased from 570 million to 1.3 billion. In 1960 alone, for example, the population increased 15 million with families having an average of 6 children per household (China’s population is currently increasing at a rate of 6 million per year).  In 1962, the government’s error in encouraging a growing population became painfully apparent when 45 million people starved due to food shortages.

The government initially attempted to get their population under control by using the slogan: late, long, and few. What this meant was that the government wanted people to get married late, wait longer to have additional children, and reduce the number of children in their household. To some extent this program worked, as it reduced the average number of children in a household from 6 to 3 in the late 1970s. However, this reduction still fell short of government expectations.

Consequently, in the 1970s, the government decided to institute a family planning policy and later followed with an enforced one child policy in the early 1980s. By government estimates, the one child policy has prevented approximately 400 million births.

The one child policy wasn’t first proposed by the government but, according to Susan Greenhalgh and Elias Grivoyannis, by a rocket scientist (really!) named Song Jian. Initially, this policy was not unpopular in urban China where people lived in small apartments and commuted to work daily. However, this policy was unpopular in rural areas where children were laborers and were needed to help harvest crops. Therefore, in a concession to sustain its agricultural production and maintain peace within rural China, those residing in rural areas could apply to have a second child. Ethnic minorities, which account for less than 10% of the Chinese population, were also allowed to have a second child. Subsequently, there are currently 120 males born in China for every 100 females. This created a number of social and economic changes.

The first change was a significant increase in abortions. Since Chinese society has always had a traditional preference for males, married couples wanted their child to be male, even if that meant an abortion and trying again. Additionally, with the advent of the ultrasound, an unborn child’s sex was able to be determined early in its development. Although it’s illegal for the medical staff to disclose the sex of the baby prior to birth, many times the medical staff was bribed to reveal the sex of the unborn child. As a result, an abortion was frequently performed if the child was determined to be female.  Although the government has significantly increased its enforcement efforts to try and prevent this practice, they aren’t always successful

The second change impacted China’s labor force. As the elderly population continued to grow, China’s labor force began to decrease and created shortages. With the resulting labor shortages, wages began to rise and diminish China’s cost advantage in the global market.

A third change affected the traditional care of the elderly. Historically, a family has paid to take care of their elderly parents as well as their grandparents. They may or may not live in the same household, but their physical care, as well as economic well-being, is usually the responsibility of family members. But with the implementation of the one child policy, this may not be possible. A family consisting of a single child may not be financially able to support up to 8 people (each set of parents, and each set of grandparents). Therefore, the elderly have come to rely less on their offspring and more on their own resources. They’ve increased their savings as a percentage of their income, more than in previous generations. They now realize that family members may not be financially or physically able to care for them as they get older and that more savings will be needed to maintain their well-being.

A fourth change is the inability of a great many single men to find a bride or female companion. According to Joseph D. Tucker, Chinese men are already having trouble finding brides. Currently, 88% of all single Chinese between 35 and 39 are male. Moreover, the problem is not projected to get any better. By 2020 the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimates that there will be 40 million more Chinese men than women under the age of 20. In comparison, the last U.S. census indicated there were 5 million more women than men in the U.S.

A fifth change is a broad-based negative impact on society. According to The Economist, as the proportion of males in society has risen so has crime. Crime rates nearly doubled in the last 20 years. Incidents of social unrest doubled in only 8 years. Lena Edlund, in a paper published in 2010, indicates that an increase in male sex ratios results in increased bride abductions, trafficking in women, rape, and prostitution. In addition, China has proven to be a lucrative market for the sale of women from other Asian countries into sexual exploitation and forced marriages.

There’s no indication that the Chinese government will change the one child policy any time soon. Although this policy has caused many social and economic problems, it’s also allowed social and economic stability. For now, the government hopes to balance the cause and effect of the one child policy.

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