China’s excess men: 32 million (!!) eligible bachelors

From The British Medical Journal:

In 2005 males under the age of 20 exceeded females by more than 32 million in China, and more than 1.1 million excess births of boys occurred. China will see very high and steadily worsening sex ratios in the reproductive age group over the next two decades. Enforcing the existing ban on sex selective abortion could lead to normalisation of the ratios.


In the absence of intervention, the sex ratio at birth is consistent across populations at between 103 and 107 boys born for every 100 girls.1 2 Higher early mortality among boys ensures a ratio of close to 100 in the all important reproductive years. However, in many countries, mainly in South and East Asia, the sex ratio deviates from this norm because of the tradition of preference for sons.3 Historically, preference for sons has been manifestpostnatally through female infanticide and the neglect and abandonment of girls.4 Where this persists, it mainly consists of failure to access necessary medical care.5 6 However, since the early 1980s selection for males prenatally with ultrasonographic sex determination and sex selective abortion has been possible. This technology has become widely available in many countries,leading to high sex ratios from birth.5 The highest sex ratios are seen in countries with a combination of preference for sons, easy access to sex selective technology, and a low fertility rate, as births of girls must be prevented to allow for the desired number of sons within the family size.7 In the era of the one child policy the fact that the problem of excess males in China seems to outstrip that of all other countries is perhaps no surprise.6 8


The total sex ratio at birth for the 12 months to October 2005 was 120 (119 to 121) for the whole sample, with a gradient between urban (115, 113 to 117), town (120, 118 to 122), and rural (123, 121 to 124) areas. This equates to 11 320 excess boys born for the year for the whole sample. The total sex ratio at birth was over 130 in three provinces (Shaanxi, Anhui, and Jiangxi) and over 120 in 14 provinces. These overall figures conceal dramatic differences in sex ratio at birth by birth order. The sex ratio at birth for first order births wasslightly high in cities and towns but was within normal limits in rural areas. However, the ratio rose very steeply for second and higher order births in cities 138 (132 to 144), towns 137 (131 to 143), and rural areas 146 (143 to 149), although the numbers of second order births in cities were low. These riseswere consistent across all provinces, except Tibet, with very high figures for second births in Anhui (190, 176 to 205) and Jiangsu (192, 174 to 212). For third births, the sex ratio rose to over 200 in four provinces, although third births accounted for only 4.3% of the total.


Although some imaginative and extreme solutions have been suggested,33 34nothing can be done now to prevent this imminent generation of excess men. The government is very aware of the problem and has openly expressed concerns about the consequences of large numbers of excess men for societal stability and security.22 As early as 2000 the government launched a range of policies to specifically counter the sex imbalance, the “care for girls” campaign. This includes changes in laws in areas such as inheritance by females, as well as an educational campaign to promote gender equality.* These measures have had some success, with reports of lower sex ratios at birth in targeted localities.22 This shows that change is occurring. In addition, the finding thatthe sex ratio at birth did not increase between 2000 and 2005, and that the ratio for the first (and usually only) birth in many urban areas is within normal limits, means that the sex ratio may fall in the foreseeable future.

*Not originally in bold. 

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Sarah Andersen is both a wave and a particle.