With 35 mil. more men than women, China’s rural marriage crisis deepens

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A sign on a private home advertises the “Red thread matchmaking service center” in Henan Province, China, on Oct. 17.

BIYANG COUNTY, Henan Province, China — There are now 35 million more men than women in China.

This population imbalance is partly attributed to abortions of female fetuses under the one-child policy as families made it a priority to ensure they had a male heir, especially in farming villages.

As many young rural women have also moved to urban areas and do not want to marry men from farming villages, men in rural China are having an increasingly difficult time finding marriage partners.

The Chinese government has so far not found a way to address the issue.

The one-child policy was in place for 36 years, starting in 1979. It aimed to curb population growth by restricting births to one child per couple, in principle. Fines were imposed for any additional births.

In response to a severe decline in the birth rate, all couples were allowed to have two children from late 2015. This July, it was announced that restrictions on a third child would be lifted and fines would be abolished.

10 times more men

In mid-October, a one-story home in a farming village in Biyang County, in central China’s Henan Province, bore a new sign proclaiming it to be the “Red thread matchmaking service center.”

Chen Changqin, 60, set up the center in his home to help solve the village’s marriage crisis.

There are 10 men for every woman within the age group of people who are most likely to get married in Biyang County, according to Chinese media. The surplus of men is especially serious in this region.

According to Chen, several dozen people in their 30s to 60s have registered for his service, more than 80% of them men.

Because the vast majority of young women from the village have left to work in urban areas, the matchmaking takes place on their visits home.

“Most women don’t want to get married to someone living in a farming village,” Chen said, “so the marriage rate is low.”

The problem is not merely that women have left farming villages. There is simply too many men.

In 2020, there were 34.9 million more men than women, a rate of 105.07 men for every 100 women, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

For people in their 20s to 40s when marriage usually takes place, the disparity is higher at a rate of 108.9 men per 100 women, meaning 17.52 million more men than women.

In Japan, the situation is reversed, with 94.8 men per 100 women in 2019, according to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.

Financial burden

The marriage problem is made more difficult in rural areas by traditions in which the groom’s side gives a large betrothal gift. These days, it is commonplace to also provide a house and car.

The man’s financial burden from marriage can be up to 2 million yuan (about ¥35.6 million), according to a survey of rural areas conducted this summer by authorities in at least seven provinces and directly administered cities, including northeast Shandong Province and southwest Chongqing.

This stands in contrast to the average disposable income per person in rural areas, which last year was about 17,000 yuan (about ¥300,000).

“I was able to find a girlfriend willing to consider marriage after coming to Beijing,” said a 31-year-old man from a rural village in Shandong who works for an event planning company in the capital. “For my male friends who stayed back home, forget about marriage, their dream is to just date a woman from the same generation.”

International marriages that came from matchmaking tours overseas are also common.

According to the online Chinese publication The Paper, marriages between rural Chinese men and Southeast Asian women began increasing in the 1990s. The year before last, there were more than 1,000 marriages with women from Southeast Asia in rural villages in a coastal area of southern China.

In some cases, however, women from poor families have been tricked into coming to China to “work,” which has been criticized as a form of human trafficking.

Policies miss mark

In July, the administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping lifted the ban on having a third child. Even so, if the marriage difficulties in rural villages persist, the already declining birth rate could go even lower.

In September, the government of Xiangyin County in south-central Hunan Province called on women not to move to cities, but to “cooperate in correcting the male-female imbalance in your hometown.” When the news website Hongxing News gave this positive coverage, criticism erupted online that “women are not slaves.”

After a research institute in north-central Shanxi Province proposed matching rural men with urban women, there was fierce backlash that “the economic disparities are too large.”

A 28-year-old female reporter working for a Beijing TV station took a dim view of the government’s policies, which have been criticized for being off the mark.

“In rural areas in particular, the custom of giving little importance to women’s lives is deep-rooted,” she said. “Shouldn’t that be fixed first?”