23 January 2019
Marrying late is not a new phenomenon for Hong Kong women. Neither is it for Hong Kong men. Photo: China Daily
Marrying late is not a new phenomenon for Hong Kong women. Neither is it for Hong Kong men. Photo: China Daily

Why crisis of ‘leftover women’ is a fallacy

Recently a dating specialist’s inspiring views on “the secret behind our local single women’s unwillingness to get married” sparked heated debate on the internet.

In short, her theory is that women in Hong Kong in general spend most of their time studying when they are young and miss the opportunity to start a relationship.

Moreover, she says, these women are often very career driven and picky about men, and as a result many guys are just scared away.

Whenever I see news like that, I often wonder whether it is just a kind of sales pitch by dating agents urging single women to seek help as soon as possible.

As a matter of fact, late marriage is not new to Hong Kong, and it doesn’t apply only to women either.

Government statistics show that, over the past decade, the median age of first marriage for men has remained at around 31, while that for women edged slightly higher, from 28 to 29.

If late marriage is a cause for public concern, then one must note that the situation is in fact more serious with men.

In 2011, more than half of local men aged between 30 and 34 had never been married at all, almost 12 percentage points higher than the figure for women in the same age range.

While the general impression is there is an excess of single women, with single men in short supply, hard statistics tell us the proportion of single marriageable men actually far exceeds that of their female counterparts.

Why is “leftover men” never a hot topic?

It’s probably a matter of preconceptions.

It seems there is no shortage of justifications for men being single; for example, maybe they are not prepared for marriage yet, or men become more marketable the more mature they get.

If a woman is single, the usual interpretation is that she has not got married not because she doesn’t want to but because she is unwanted.

Late marriage is seen as a crisis for women, but there’s hardly any stigma attached to single men.

As a result, single women are often subject to a lot more social pressure than single men.

In fact, the public has overlooked another far more serious issue concerning men and women, which could have profoundly grave implications for our society, and that is the soaring number of divorces in the past 20 years.

In 2013, roughly speaking, one in every 300 people in Hong Kong had been divorced at least once.

On the other hand, remarriage has become increasingly common over the past two decades, and the number of cases increased from 5,000 back in 1991 to almost 20,000 in 2013.

Among all marriages, the percentage of remarriages rose from 11.5 percent in 1991 to 35.3 percent in 2013.

Moreover, in the 40-54 age bracket, the percentage of divorced women is almost double that of men, suggesting that divorced men often stand a better chance of getting married again.

In conclusion, let’s get the facts straight.

Percentagewise, there are more single marriageable men.

The so-called “leftover women” phenomenon that has become a sensation in recent years is nothing but a fallacy. If there is any crisis, it would be a crisis of having too many leftover men.

It is however true that divorced women often stand a much lesser chance of getting remarried than their male counterparts, which is a social issue that really deserves public attention.

This article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 4.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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