In the last few years, the phenomena of China’s “leftover women” — that is, women over the age of 28 who are unmarried — has become a hot topic amongst China and China-watchers.But the fact is these so-called “leftover women” are probably an overhyped concern, perhaps driven by government worries about a more likely problem — leftover men, aka “bare branches”.
Yes, given a combination of China’s one child policy and a traditional preference for sons, China may be looking at 12 to 15 per cent of its male population being unable to find a wife. As Jessica Levine writes at Tea Leaf Nation, that’s pretty much the population of Texas.
That many lonely, angry men are not good for anyone. Levine points to an academic article released last year by Quanbao Jiang & Jesús J. Sánchez-Barricarte, these bare branches aren’t just sad — they represent a danger to society.
The article, “Bride price in China: the obstacle to ‘Bare Branches’ seeking marriage”, explains how another factor in China — a traditional payment for brides referred to as a “bride price” — is causing problems for the “bare branches”.
Many “bare branches” are from poor and rural areas, and find it difficult to pay the “bride price”, making them a less attractive mate. In recent years, as the shortage of eligible females has become more pronounced, the “bride price” has gone up.
For “bare branches”, desperate times can lead to desperate measures. Jiang and Sánchez-Barricarte write:
Bachelorhood affects one’s physical health, psychology and behaviour, and can ruin one’s life discipline. Bare branches will seek opportunities to marry in various ways, threatening social stability, and the stability of their families and communities, as well as menacing social order. This has become a serious problem that Chinese society, and its government, will sooner or later have to address.
As such, it may be a bit easier to understand why Chinese institutions seems to play into the “leftover women” narrative — it’s a lot less scary than the alternative.
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