July 30, 2013, by Tony Hong

The leftover women – Find a husband after the age of 27

By Stefanie Andermatt,

Studying Business Administration at Zurich University of Applied Sciences.

Before I came to China I had read an article about unmarried women after the age of 27. I found this problem quite interesting and I was looking forward to see how it is when I am in China. In the University I saw a lot of young, talented und very smart girls who spend there free time in the University to study. So I did some research about it. 

In China, if a young woman does not marry by age twenty-eight, she is widely considered leftover. If she is single by age thirty, she is made to feel she has truly expired. A very recent CNN article quoted a young Shanghai woman who called this problem “one of the most talked about issues in Chinese society.” According to her, “a lot of educated women are left behind because they set a very high standard for their future husbands.” Most of the time the women don’t realize that, they are already old, by the time they get their M.A. or Ph.D. Most Chinese men appear to agree, that women should marry before age 27 “to avoid becoming unwanted.”

Now, the threat of becoming an unwanted girl could be enough to incite serious marriage-panic in anybody, but is such anxiety warranted? Several factors make me wonder if the “crisis” facing China’s best and brightest single ladies might be a bit overblown. For starters, there simply aren’t as many of these women as one would expect, given all the fuss this issue has caused. According to recent national statistics reported by the All-China Federation of Women, there are 5.8 million unmarried women aged 30-39 in China today. While six million single women might sound like a lot, in the vast context ofChina, it really isn’t. According to UN World Marriage Data, fewer than 5% of women in their thirties are unmarried, and most of them are 30-34 years old. Everybody else has a husband. In Singapore and the US, by contrast, 25% of early-thirties women are still single, in Japan, 35% of them are unwed, and in theUK, it’s nearly half. Compared to the rest of the developed world, women over thirty are much more likely to be married in China than almost anywhere else.

China’s married population is still very high by all accounts, but it has admittedly dipped in recent years. This dip is a normal and expected change for any nation rising out of poverty and will likely continue. Before the mid-1980s, China was desperately poor and all but 2% of Chinese women married at some point in their lives. At that time, for financial and cultural reasons, marriage was just a pre-requisite for adulthood. It wasn’t about romance or shared life dreams. It was just what people did. Similar levels of “marriage saturation” can be found almost exclusively in poor countries like Uganda, Uzbekistan, and North Korea. In developed nations like Singapore, Japan, Britain, and the US, a full 10-20% of women never marry. As women’s education, financial independence, and life options increase, they no longer have to marry, so some of them don’t. This trend is unfolding right now in China.

Ultimately, China’s smart, urban, unmarried ladies can probably take their time. They live in a resourceful society that values marriage and has a proven track record of getting women into the institution. And things aren’t as dark as the media makes them sound. Even if 90% of men agree that “leftover-dom” strikes at age 27, at least 10% do not agree, which is almost exactly the percentage of women looking to marry after their late twenties. Perhaps those open-minded men will find them. Not to mention that rising divorce means the market of single people is constantly in flux. Divorce is not usually heralded as a promising feature of the marital landscape, but there is a silver lining: new potential spouses become available every month. All in all, a mainland woman who wants to marry has every reason to think she will find a husband eventually.

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