Thursday, May 04, 2006

China’s Surplus Men

By guest bloggers Alex Plamp and Mary Jo Tewes from the Family Life class.
(Part one of two).

A recent post on discussed a CBS news report detailing the immense overpopulation of men currently plaguing China (the post is here; the original CBS story is here). According to the article, an average of 120 boys are born for every 100 girls, and China faces an overhang of 40 million bachelors.

As Dr. Weston stated in class earlier this semester, “An unmarried man is the most dangerous thing in the world, and large groups of them break things.” China's overpopulation of men has already led to dramatic increases in social problems, including a huge, floating population of 140 million migrant workers, as well as higher rates of crime, prostitution, and bride kidnappings. Perhaps most frightening, according to the original blog post, is the fact that societies with surpluses of men have historically engaged in expansionist foreign policies – that is, they invade their neighbors. Overpopulations of men are also a problem in India and most Muslim countries, which could lead to some nasty testosterone-fueled conflicts in the Eastern part of the world in the near future.

For 25 years, China has enforced a rule of one child per family, in order to curb its dangerously high population growth. Given the option of having only one child, families have favored boys overwhelmingly – The news article cites a traditional preference for boys in Asian societies, noting that it is men who usually care for their parents when they get older.

The one-child policy, which is enforced with sterilization and/or mandatory birth control, has decreased China’s potential population by 300 million people, which is not a bad thing in itself. But if families are forced to choose, they are much more likely to choose a boy over a girl, simply because men have a higher chance of success in society – they have more opportunities to earn money and gain power, thus providing security for their families. Therefore, rather than doing away with the one-child rule, China is making attempts to change the anti-female sentiment in the country. The CBS article says “school fees for girls have been reduced, and laws changed so daughters can inherit land,” indicating that the key to equal preference for boys and girls is going to depend on increased opportunities for women’s social, economic, and political advancement in Chinese society. That is, if women are more capable of succeeding on their own and acquiring the resources necessary to take care of their families when they get older, then parents will be much more likely to have girls.

Personally, we think this development is inevitable. Men don’t like to share women, and Chinese men are eventually going to realize that they need many, many more of them around. However, unless the anti-girl sentiment changes overnight, the one-child rule is not going to encourage much change, and it’s probably going to take a substantial amount of time to change the mindset of over a billion people.

In the meantime, here is a suggestion: What if China changed the law so that families had to stop having children after they had one girl and one boy? Naturally this is not a perfect solution – it would not help the overpopulation problem, and might lead to even more abortions (say, for example, a family already has a boy, keeps trying, but keeps having boys?) Still, something must be done to get some more women into China, before all the unmarried men go crazy and kill each other.


Gruntled said...

Did China's one child policy reduce the population there, or merely reduce the rate of increase?

Michael W. Kruse said...

One of the most fascinating aspects of studying social demography is the impact that government policy has on populations. I think it was about 1962 in Romania when the government decided the popluation had quit growing so they prohbited all birth control. The number of births doubled in one year. Think about the impact of that each year as that cohort moves through the life cycle.

The laws of unintended consequnces. Interesting post.

Mary Jo Tewes said...

As you said, it's not the population that decreased, but the potential population that decreased because of the reduction in the rate of increase. As long as there are more babies being born than old people dying, the population is increasing, but the one-child law has slowed the growth dramatically.

Gruntled said...

After a few more years in Romania, few people wanted to have kids under Communism, anyway.

cynthia m. said...

I would think that if China was seriously concerned with this issue they would call a halt to international adoption of female children.

Gruntled said...

I have wondered about that. It may be that the girls put up for adoption are second children, so the parents are under pressure to get rid of one. Worse, it may be that if they give away a girl, they can try again for a boy.

C. Patton said...

Not to induce a “red scare”, but China’s surplus of men could have a much larger impact than I think has thus far been considered. A nation full of “angry men” could prove to be destructive both at home and abroad, to the chagrin of every other nation. While a revolution doesn’t seem out of the question for a country with 140+ migrant workers, and the possible creation of a more relaxed government seems tremendously appealing, such a destabilization, however temporary, could have catastrophic economic effects on the U.S. (seeing as how we are over $242 billion dollars in debt to them, and I say “over”, because my facts are a year old, and we have since gone to war). China also accounts for 22% of the world’s population, and 12% of its GDP. Beyond economic disaster, the Chinese Congress unanimously voted to “use force if Taiwan declares independence”, maintains the world’s largest standing army, and has a growing military budget of over $67 billion. To top it all off, China’s most recent ally, with whom they trade military hardware for oil, is none other than the newest nuclear power: Iran (To see more on this situation, read this:

My apologies if I adopt rather hyperbolic language here, but I fear we can no longer consider China’s problem to be its own. The suppression of rights in any nation prevents the progression of civilization everywhere, not to mention its impact in one of the world’s leading superpowers. The saddest part of all this is that many democratic nations have accomplished the same goal as China (i.e., slowing birth rates) using far less forceful means, though admittedly, without the same degree of effect. While there is no clear answer for China’s looming population problem, it is a problem we will all face in one form or another.

mary jo tewes said...

We mentioned some of the scary possible consequences of this demographic shift in class and in conversation with Dr. Weston. You are exaggerating, but only a little bit.

I might point out though, that Western countries that have lowered thier birth rates are much richer and more industrialized than China is, and have completely a different set of values which favors individualism. It would be difficult and strange for China to follow thier example.

Gruntled said...

I think China is in a race between democracy and imperial war. The growing middle class will push for democracy, and will, in general, vote against aggressive war. Since no one is insane enough to invade China, that would mean peace in the region. However, the longer the gerontocracy holds on, the more likely they will decide to settle the Taiwan question by force.