Difference between population of girls and boys in China and India, 1970-2018 and projected to 2100. In China, there are currently 6.2 million boys than girls, and in India, there are 5.9 million more boys than girls. Data from United Nations World Population Prospects. Graphic: The Washington Post

By Simon Denyer and Annie Gowen
18 April 2018

(The Washington Post) – Nothing like this has happened in human history. A combination of cultural preferences, government decree and modern medical technology in the world’s two largest countries has created a gender imbalance on a continental scale. Men outnumber women by 70 million in China and India.

The consequences of having too many men, now coming of age, are far-reaching: Beyond an epidemic of loneliness, the imbalance distorts labor markets, drives up savings rates in China and drives down consumption, artificially inflates certain property values, and parallels increases in violent crime, trafficking or prostitution in a growing number of locations.

Those consequences are not confined to China and India, but reach deep into their Asian neighbors and distort the economies of Europe and the Americas, as well. Barely recognized, the ramifications of too many men are only starting to come into sight.

“In the future, there will be millions of men who can’t marry, and that could pose a very big risk to society,” warns Li Shuzhuo, a leading demographer at Xi’an Jiaotong University.

Out of China’s population of 1.4 billion, there are nearly 34 million more males than females — the equivalent of almost the entire population of California, or Poland, who will never find wives and only rarely have sex. China’s official one-child policy, in effect from 1979 to 2015, was a huge factor in creating this imbalance, as millions of couples were determined that their child should be a son.

India, a country that has a deeply held preference for sons and male heirs, has an excess of 37 million males, according to its most recent census. The number of newborn female babies compared with males has continued to plummet, even as the country grows more developed and prosperous. The imbalance creates a surplus of bachelors and exacerbates human trafficking, both for brides and, possibly, prostitution. Officials attribute this to the advent of sex-selective technology in the last 30 years, which is now banned but still in widespread practice. […]

When looking at just the ratio of boys to girls in each country, it may look as if that gap has narrowed, but its effects on marriage have yet to peak. The biggest gap between men and women of marriageable age, defined here as 15 to 29, will come in the next few decades, as the babies of the past decade grow up. And factoring in the large pool of both unmarried older and younger men vying for the same small pool of young women, the gap becomes more of a chasm.

Number of men ages 15-49 for every woman ages 15-29 in China and India, 1970-2018 and projected to 2100. The biggest gap between men and women of marriageable age, defined here as 15 to 29, will come in the next few decades, as the babies of the past decade grow up. And factoring in the large pool of both unmarried older and younger men vying for the same small pool of young women, the gap becomes more of a chasm. Graphic: The Washington Post

Both nations are belatedly trying to come to grips with the policies that created this male-heavy generation. And demographers say it will take decades for the ramifications of the bulge to fade away.

In the four sections below are personal tales that show how the imbalance has affected:

  • Village life and mental health. Among men, loneliness and depression are widespread. Villages are emptying out. Men are learning to cook and perform other chores long relegated to women. Stagnant lives
  • Housing prices and savings rates. Bachelors are furiously building houses in China to attract wives, and prices are soaring. But otherwise they are not spending, and that in turn fuels China’s huge trade surplus. In India, there is the opposite effect: Because brides are scarce, families are under less pressure to save for expensive dowries. The desperate effort to land a bride
  • Human trafficking. Trafficking of brides is on the rise. Foreign women are being recruited and lured to China, effectively creating similar imbalances in China’s neighbors. Importing a bride
  • Public safety. With the increase in men has come a surge in sexual crime in India and concerns about a rise in other crimes in both countries. Harassment of schoolgirls in India has in some towns sparked an effort to push back — but at a cost of restricting them to more protected lives. Taking a stand over harassment […]

Male suitors in China pay a “bride price” to earn their future in-laws’ approval for the engagement. Because of the acute imbalance, it has gone from a few hundred dollars a decade or two ago to nearly $30,000 in some parts of China. Families sock that money away instead of spending it.

Bride prices in nine Chinese provinces skyrocketed between 1994 and 2013. Data from Professor Wei Yan, Xi’an University of Finance and Economics. Graphic: The Washington Post

Having sons was once a hedge against poverty in old age. Now elderly parents are sacrificing to help their sons appear marriageable — and to support sons who fail to find a bride. Daughters-in-law were once expected to look after their husbands’ parents. In millions of families, that’s no longer possible. [more]

Too Many Men

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