FOREIGN POLICY: IN 2006, CHINA'S Cosmopolitan ran the headline, "Welcome to the Age of the Leftover Ladies." Women in urban China are marrying later, and the most educated marry latest -- or, increasingly, not at all. there's a common joke that there are three genders in China: men, women, and women with Ph.D.s. Men marry women, and women with Ph.D.s don't marry.
There's a new conundrum in China: the plight of its sheng nu, or "leftover ladies." In popular parlance, sheng nu refers to women above a certain age -- some say 27, others 30 -- who are unmarried and presumably "left over," too old to be desirable. Increasingly, sheng nu are a topic of alternating humor and alarm for Chinese newspaper columnists, TV sitcoms, reality dating shows, and studies by government bodies like the All-China Women's Federation; according to its 2010 survey, more than 90 percent of male respondents agreed that women should marry before age 27 or risk being forever undesired.
"In the past, there was no such word as sheng nu. Thirty years ago, a marriage certificate was a passport into adulthood. "Until you married, there were no basic human rights. No right to have sex before marriage. No house allocated by your danwei [government work unit] before marriage."
Today those barriers have crumbled, with rising sexual freedom and a booming private real estate market. Why marry unless you find someone just right? But today women have more wealth and education -- they have better jobs, and higher requirements for men." She reflected: "Now you want to find a man you have deep feelings for who also has a house and a car. You won't all find that."
SCALLYWAG & VAGABOND: Feng Luoyo, said to have 1.4 million followers on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, had the audacity to pre-screen candidates for matrimony.
“He must be a post-graduate of economicsfrom Tsinghua or Beijing University,with a height of 5 feet 9 to 6 feet.He must have never been a father,and any ex-girlfriends must not have had abortions.He has to be a native of eastern coastal China.He should not be an employee of state companies,but it’s OK if he works for PetroChina, Sinopec or top banks,”To fully understand the degree of reaction her fellow Chinese had to Feng’s demands, one must appreciate the acute situation in China where men outnumber women (China like many pan Asian states, including India, has a long standing tradition of favoring males almost to the point that some expecting mothers will seek an abortion should they find out that they are pregnant with a girl), and how Feng’s seemingly innocent demands touched a very raw nerve given the imbalance of men to women, which these days has finding a wife become quite a competitive sport.
FOREIGN POLICY: But it's not just China. In many East Asian countries, women, especially the best-educated top-earners now thronging the cities, are increasingly rejecting the institution of marriage altogether. The Economist reported last year that roughly a third of Japanese women in their early 30s and more than 20 percent of Taiwanese women in their late 30s remained unmarried; not more than half those women will ever tie the knot. In Singapore, 27 percent of college-educated 40- to 44-year-old women were single.
Given China's unbalanced sex ratio, if more women opt for the single life, that simply leaves more unmarried men at the bottom of the social ladder. According to Wang's analysis of China's 2000 census, just 1 percent of college-educated men remained single at age 40, but among men in the lowest income and education bracket, fully 25 percent were single at 40. If some 24 million largely rural bachelors remain in remote villages to care for aging parents, who in turn will care for them? Moreover, a greater proportion of single men, in any society, is often linked with increasing rates of crime and violence. As one common Chinese slogan has it, a harmonious family is the cornerstone of a harmonious society. Clearly, Beijing is worried that the inverse is also true.