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July 18, 2012

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Home » City specials » Hangzhou

Shifting balance set to create 'leftover men'

THE "leftover women" phenomenon - unmarried women in their late 20s and older - is familiar to most Chinese, but things are set to change over the next 20 years when, due to the imbalanced male-to-female birth ratio, there will be a surplus of single men, say experts.

According to census figures, in China every year there are 1.2 million more men than women reaching marrying age, and it is calculated that by 2020 there will be estimated 24 million "leftover men" in the country.

And in Zhejiang Province the situation seems even more severe. According to the national census two years ago, the national male-to-female birth ratio was 117.84:100, while in Zhejiang Province the ratio is 118.13:100.

The natural ratio should be between 103:100 and 107:100.

"The disparity arose 30 years ago and has stayed high in recent years," Wang Wenjuan, director of Zhejiang Population and Family Planning Commission, tells Qianjiang Evening News.

The imbalance occurred after the introduction of China's family planning policy in 1978 that allowed couple only one child. In 1980, China had a ratio of 106 boys for every 100 girls, within the natural ratio.

That's why this summer there is a nationwide campaign to stop couples terminating a pregnancy simply on the basis of the sex of the unborn child. Last week, Zhejiang held its campaign, organized by the Zhejiang Population and Family Planning Commission in Hangzhou.

"If the situation continues, 'male leftovers' will be a social problem, and consequently will influence the country's economic and social development," says Wang.

Little prospect

Wang believes that if there is a large pool of low-income, poorly educated men with little prospect of finding a marriage partner, it could lead to social disorder.

Traditionally, Chinese society sees sons as essential in continuing the family line and supporting parents in their old age. A daughter, on the other hand, is viewed as another family's child after marriage.

From ancient times, there existed the concept of "looking up to men and down on women." While in most coastal cities and developed areas this attitude no longer prevails, it still exists in some places - both affluent and less developed.

Wenzhou, Taizhou, Yiwu and other economically developed areas of Zhejiang boast many rich entrepreneurs of private enterprises who want to hand over companies to sons.

For example, the wife of a rich family in Yiwu gave birth to a daughter as her first child. Later she became pregnant again and had an ultrasound scan that indicated she was carrying a girl. The family arranged for an abortion, but discovered that the aborted child was a boy.

A year later, the woman became pregnant again, and the test showed the unborn child was a boy this time. When the baby was born it was a girl.

This extreme story highlights the lengths some families will go to in order to produce a male heir.

And the example also shows the fallibility in seeking to identify the fetus sex via medical tests - a practice which is illegal but is still carried out by some clinics.

Dong Huagen, an official from Zhejiang Population and Family Planning Commission, agreed that less wealthy males would bear the brunt of the "leftover men" phenomenon.

"It is the reality of society that men from rich families won't find it hard to find a bride, the leftover men problem will belong to those extra men who come from low-income groups," says Dong.

In recent years, Zhejiang's government has passed a number of policies to address the problem.

For example, one initiative has seen families with a daughter allocated more farmland and better a pension. Since 2002, couples who are only children are allowed to have two children.


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