19 March 2019
In a country of 1.3 billion people, a perfect match is not that easy to make. Photo: Bloomberg
In a country of 1.3 billion people, a perfect match is not that easy to make. Photo: Bloomberg

China’s marrying types: If you can’t mix, you can’t match

Hong Kong men of a certain age and their mainland cousins enjoy a certain advantage over women — they can afford to take their time getting married.

At least that’s the theory, but increasingly, there have been hard numbers to back anecdotal evidence.

In Hong Kong, one million of 3.42 million women aged 15 and above are unmarried, according to the Census and Statistics Department.

By comparison, 970,000 of 2.88 million males in the same age bracket are single, meaning women outnumber men by 30,000.

In mainland China, big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen have a similar demographic. Official statistics on single men and women are non-existent but some media reports estimate the number of mature unmarried females in Beijing at between 550,000 and 800,000.

China’s one-child policy has raised a generation skewed toward the male gender, but the trend is less pronounced in urban centers than in far-flung areas where most of the country’s 1.3 billion people live.

That aside, culture and traditions have much to do with Chinese attitudes toward marriage.

For instance, a man is supposed to marry a woman younger than him, but he usually gets a pass if he doesn’t, or at least gets extra time to find one. On the other hand, if a woman can’t find Mr. Right by the age of 30, she will be under substantial parental pressure. She is likely to rush things.

It’s true that picky prospective mothers-in-law in cities often set certain conditions on their future sons-in-law — a property certificate, a considerable bank balance, vehicle ownership, etc. But if the daughter is past 30, she ceases to become a bargaining chip.

As for men, there’s no hurry and no problem.

They can hold their own as marrying types past 30. In fact, a growing number of Chinese women prefer older men who are perceived to be more mature and more financially stable.

But that’s all an urban story.

In China’s rural areas, single males have to fight for single females. That is the result of a deeply entrenched patriarchal culture exacerbated by the government’s one-child policy, resulting in disproportionately high male births.

It’s not uncommon to find rural couples traveling to cities to confirm the gender of their unborn child. A ban on prenatal ultrasound meant to prevent abortions if it shows a female fetus has not deterred families from seeking it.

Perhaps due to this “selection” process, the birth gender ratio in rural areas is 119.2 boys to 100 girls, according to an official population census.

State news agency Xinhua reports that rural men lace their courtship with cash, cars, even a new village house.

Does that increase the chances of urban women finding a husband where men are in abundance?

Apparently not. The country’s complex household registration system, which draws an invisible line between urban and rural residents, gets in the way.

Which is why, in a country of 1.3 billion people, a perfect match is not easy to make.

– Contact the writer at [email protected]



EJ Insight writer

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