Thursday, September 10, 2009

The new marriage market and the future

High sex ratio cohorts are likely, virtually by definition, to have greater numbers of males who fail outright to establish stable couple relationships. Moreover, the relationships that many males do establish in high sex ratio periods may be tenuous and subject to jealousies, rivalries, and the threat of displacement by other, more highly “qualified” males. (Pedersen, 1991)

When Pedersen wrote the above almost two decades ago, he did not exactly fear the new marriage market of too many men chasing too few women. In fact, his prognosis was largely upbeat. There would be “lower divorce rates”, “greater marital stability”, “enhanced marital satisfaction for women”, “greater commitment by males to procurement of economic resources”, “greater willingness by men to engage in active parenting”, and “increase in fertility”. This generally rosy outlook, however, also included the prospect of increased male violence.

Has time proved Pedersen wrong? Well, he was wrong about the positive outcomes. Perhaps he was wrong here too. Look at regions where too many men chase too few women: East Asia, parts of India and, increasingly, the Western world. These regions generally have stability, order, and low crime rates. Conversely, too few men chase too many women in U.S. inner cities and the former Soviet Union.

But such comparisons may be confounded. Stable, orderly societies also tend to be those that value men and unwittingly seek to increase the sex ratio. One reason why East Asian societies are stable and orderly is that their men are good providers. Because they work and provide for their families, parents want to have as many sons as possible—because a son will take care of them in their old age. Hence the high rate of female feticide.

Similarly, one reason why Western societies are stable and orderly is because they value human life so much, even to the point of imposing restrictions on men that would be considered demeaning in other societies (wearing of seatbelts, regulations on cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption, etc.). Hence the low rate of male mortality.

Still, what evidence is there that high sex ratios do lead to male violence? We see men among us who stay celibate for a long time without endangering public order. There is the lifelong bachelor who leads a quiet productive life. There is the immigrant who remains single for 10 to 20 years while he saves up money, buys a home, and builds up his business.

These examples, however, differ on one point from the new society we’re entering—where over a third of all men will be frozen out of marriage and fatherhood. In the past, a lifelong bachelor was often a self-selected individual with a low sex drive and probably low testosterone levels. As for the immigrant who stays single for 10 to 20 years, he would eventually bring out a wife from the old country—typically 10 to 20 years his junior. Neither example violates the social contract we once offered young men: work hard, obey the law, and you will become a full-fledged member of society.

The problem begins when this social contract is no longer honored. Consider China, where the sex ratio has progressively risen since the mid-1980s—after the adoption of the one-child policy and the advent of prenatal sex testing. Today, 97% of all unmarried Chinese aged 28-49 are male. These men make up 72-75% of a large floating population that numbers between 100 and 150 million (Hudson & Boer, 2002, p. 29). Variously described as ‘migrants,’ ‘transients,’ or ‘bare branches,’ they account for a disproportionate share of crime, especially violent crime:

In Beijing, 44% of the crimes solved by the police were committed by transients. In Shanghai, this rate has been continually rising from 10% in the mid-1980s to 60%, even 80% in some districts, by 1995. … Moreover, our study found that many crimes committed by transient people are senseless and ruthless. An argument over a word can lead to a cold-blooded fight; burglars often kill the victims or witnesses on the scene if the offense is observed; highway robbery, rape, and kidnapping usually end with the victims’ death; and a complaint about the poor quality of goods sold by transient vendors can cause injury in a severe physical assault. (Hudson & Boer, 2002, p. 32)

A similar trend has appeared in the northwestern states of India, where sex ratios have reached particularly high levels:

Indeed there is a statistically significant relationship between violent crime rates and the sex ratio in Indian states. Sen notes that “extensive interdistrict contrasts … show a strong—and statistically very significant—relation between the female-male ratio in the population and the scarcity of violent crimes.
… The strongest correlation found was between murder and sex ratio, which were inversely related. As the authors note, “This correlation is very robust: no matter which other variables are included or excluded from the regression, we found that the female-male ratio remained highly significant, always with a negative sign. Further, the size of the coefficient of the female-male ratio is quite large” (Hudson & Boer, 2002, pp. 34-35)

Hudson and Boer (2002) argue that an excess of males increases not only violent crime and internal instability but also the probability that a country will go to war. For the government, war helps ease the tensions created by having too many single men, if only by killing them off. For a single man, war is a chance to enhance his social status and improve his access to women.

… the worst-case scenario implies that China may have close to 40 million young adult bare branches to spare in twenty years, and that the government may at that point ardently wish to see them give their lives in pursuit of a national interest. The alternative is to allow them to remain a threat to national interest, which may increasingly be seen as an untenable policy position by the government (Hudson & Boer, 2002, pp. 36-37)

Another scenario is that China will export single males and import single females. In recent years, a popular destination for Chinese emigrants has been Africa, partly because of its lax immigration laws and partly because of its wealth of undeveloped raw resources. This Chinese diaspora is estimated to range in size from 500,000 to 750,000 (Mohan & Kale, 2007). To the extent that single males take this route, there will inevitably be intermarriage that may alter China demographically when they go home.

Such a scenario may resemble what is already happening in South Korea, where 13.6% of all marriages now involve foreign brides (Lee et al., 2006). At first, these brides were largely ethnic Koreans from China. Preferences are now shifting toward Southeast Asians:

Another 18 percent of foreign wives are from other Asian countries, especially Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand. According to one international marriage agency, provincial bachelors prefer Southeast Asian women despite their darker skin (racial differences are still subject to stares and comment here, as any expatriate knows) because ethnic Korean women from China have acquired a reputation of melting away into the cities to work after using their new husband only to get a visa. (source)

In one rural county, 3 out of 10 marriages are with foreign women, mostly Southeast Asians. Likewise, a growing proportion of school-age children are of mixed origin:

In North Jeolla province there are 755 biracial students, 700 in elementary schools, 44 in middle schools and 11 in high schools. Four out of eight new students entering Mupung Elementary School in Muju next year are biracial. (source)

Some projections suggest that children of mixed parentage will account for 30% of South Korean births by 2020 (Wikipedia – Immigration to South Korea).

This trend has not gone unnoticed in the ‘other’ Korea. The North Korean press has recently condemned it as “an unpardonable bid to negate the homogeneity of the nation, make South Korea multiracial and Americanize it.”

Both of these trends will probably spread to China, i.e., growing numbers of international marriages and increasing nationalist opposition. That country has an even worse gender imbalance and has adopted the same Western ethos of autonomous individuals being free to pursue their own happiness—even when such pursuits impose costs on everyone else.

The main difference is that China’s standard of living is lower than South Korea’s. Chinese bachelors will probably look for wives in even poorer places, particularly Cambodia, Indonesia, and Africa.


Hudson, V.M. & A.D. Boer. (2002).
A surplus of men, a deficit of peace. Security and sex ratios in Asia’s largest states, International Security, 26, 5-38.

Lee, Y-J., D-H. Seol, & S-N. Cho. (2006).
International marriages in South Korea: the significance of nationality and ethnicity, Journal of Population Research, November 1, 2006.

Mohan, G., & D. Kale. (2007). The invisible hand of South-South globalisation: Chinese migrants in Africa, A Report for the Rockefeller Foundation prepared by The Development Policy and Practice Department, The Open University, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, UK

Pedersen, F.A. (1991). Secular trends in human sex ratios: Their influence on individual and family behavior, Human Nature, 2, 271-291.


RG said...

Amazingly, 2 of my males neighnors have an asian wife, one of them spend much of her time avoiding the sun with big hats and umbrellas, even in winter. Funny, but it tells a lot. I also have two female accointances that have adopted chinese girls. There is also this chinese asshole, Jon or something like that, that make 8 kidds to a white girl and dump her for another one. How interesting are those examples.

Tod said...

On the aging of Shanghai's population.

China has deliberately reduced it's population with a one child only policy which has the side effect of skewing the one child families towards boys, the declining population also exacerbates the operational sex ratio as the older men remarry. The current leadership must be aware of these unintended consequences but as the policy is still being enforced it must be true that the policy is regarded as still useful for its intended purpose.

Reducing the proportion of young people was designed to preserve social stability, as it will tend to do if Heinsohn is correct. Taking the bare branches effect into consideration the net effect of changes in the Chinese population will be to maintain social stability, at least that's what the people running China seen to think .

If there is intense competition for women then the winners of that competition will tend to be more capable The Chinese will raise the quality of their population if significant numbers of unsuccessful men do not reproduce.

India has a is relatively young population with less policing, they're far more likely to experience serious unrest.

Peter Frost said...


I understand your reasoning. But what will stop China's bachelors from looking for brides outside China? However poor or marginal they may be, they will still represent a step up for women in many poor countries.

If we look at South Korea, the marriage market losers are the ones who are having the most children -- since their wives come from cultures that value procreation.

Tod said...

For millions of China's least successful men to get a foriegn wife China would need to have the per capita GNP of S.Korea; it would be the most powerful state in the world and heading towards mega power status (ie something like the per capita GNP of Japan).
When that prospect comes into veiw China's relations with its neighbours will change for the worse and SE Asia will not be sending them wives. Emigration to Africa will be most likely to affect the ethnic composition of Africa ,especially the leadership; thats what happened in Thailand where the leading familes including the royal family are part Chinese.

China uses fear to hush up poisoned children
(Times Online on Sat, Sep 12 2009)

"Most families in Changqing are allowed to have a second child if their first is a girl but they must wait four years between births. Families still prize a male child who will carry on the clan name."

also On the aging of Shanghai's population quoting a July 2009 article says

"China's one-child policy already includes a series of exemptions – including for ethnic minorities and couples who are both only children"

Are the gender imbalance statistics taking the exemptions into account?; or the fact that cities such as Shanghai had a one child policy earlier. There are many rural areas where the policy may have been disobeyed for all we know.

How accurate are the figures demographers work with?; the estimated resident population of the UK was 61383000 in mid-2008 according to UK government statistics however the
UK population is at least 77 million according to some people. I doubt if anyone but the leadership knows enough to estimate the real operational sex ratio for China as a whole. Commenters on the blog post linked to above say China will have to import workers from Africa; if that's true the leadership are fools - which I doubt.

Peter Frost said...


China is already having a problem with Nigerians overstaying their visas. I suspect there are a lot of poor women in Africa and southeast Asia who would exchange their current situation for life as a wife in China.

I recently read an article by a Chinese demographer (I don't remember the source) who said that the 1 child policy is no longer necessary. Even without State coercion, the total fertility rate would remain below replacement.

If I'm not mistaken the 1 child policy doesn't apply to Hong Kong, yet its fertility rate is now only 1.0. Singapore has a similarly low fertility rate, as do Chinese immigrants in North America. I get the impression that the Chinese cultural norm has become one child per family.