December 20, 2012
China's Emerging Migration Issue: Wife Hunting
The migration of people from one area to another has historically been related to some aspect of survival. In China, however, experts are looking at a phenomenon often overlooked as a cause for mass migration – men looking for a mate.
Chinese culture has always favored sons. But combining that preference with a one-child policy that has sought to control population growth and an advancement in technology that boosted safe abortions, China today has a population that is greatly skewed towards males.
The Population Reference Bureau based in Washington estimates China now has 41 million bachelors who will not have women to marry. That number is growing by some estimates to 55 million in less than 10 years. Many men in China are now moving, mostly from rural to urban areas, to look for a wife.
“Migrations of male migrant workers over time has been throughout history has been in part because of gender imbalances,” said Mara Hvistendahl,an award-winning writer and journalist who has spent half of the past decade in China. Her book, Unnatural Selection, examines China's sex imbalance and the resulting migration and social problems of eligible males.
“We see a lot more migration within China these days. Migrant communities are largely male. There is a lot of concern about rising prostitution rates, STDs (sexually transmitted disease),” she said.
“There is a syphilis epidemic in China now. There are scholars who connected the rise in HIV and AIDS to this kind of more mobile, single male population.”
Normal birth ratios are 105 males for every 100 females. But in China, it is now about 120 to 100. Mara Hvistendahl says China has some history dealing with migration and sex imbalance.
“China had, not on a scale of what we are seeing today, but there was an imbalanced sex ratio in the 19th century for a few decades. And one of the products of that was Chinese workers going to the United States, areas like California to lay their railroads. So there was a mass migration at that time.”
Hvistendahl added, “Whether these men find wives is another issue.”
The issue has resurfaced, and she said in much larger numbers.
“The desire to get married is still very strong in some a lot of these cultures. Societies can certainly adapt in some way. Ultimately I think it would be very difficult to adapt to the tune of 15 percent of men remaining unmarried in a place where marriage was almost universal and where there is a big social premium on getting married,” she said.
“There is a lot of family pressure. Especially with the one-child policy, the grandparents feel like the family line is resting on this generation. There will be many people in that generation who will not be able to carry on that line.”