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China's Own Marriage Crisis


Jan 19 2010
Gender imbalance due to sex-specific abortions signals imminent crisis in the Chinese family.

Family planning has become a controversial phrase in China, due to the government's One Child Policy, a vast social experiment launched in 1979 to cap population growth and speed up economic development. State media reported recently that more than 24 million men in China are expected to be without spouses by year 2020. This is the latest consequence of a policy that has led to utility-based, sex-specific abortions (when faced with only one choice, boys have greater economic potential for parents) and created a critical gender imbalance.

The report, from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, raises critical questions about what the Chinese nuclear family will look like in 10 years, or whether it will even exist. Along with the impending marriage crisis and already endangered family unit, subsequent problems will likely include increased underage marriage and forced prostitution.

Zhao Baige, vice-minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission of China, maintains that the widespread use of contraceptives (85 percent of reproduction-age Chinese women use them) is a sign of success. "I'm not saying what we have done is 100 percent right, but I'm sure we are going in the right direction and now 1.3 billion people have benefited," she told China Daily.

Her perspective seems short-term. Workers ages 50 to 64 make up over half of China's work force today, a result of the 1950 population swell. "[O]ver the coming generation, China's prospective manpower growth rate is zero," reports the Far Eastern Economic Review. In comparison, think of America's baby-boomer generation, which is slowly leaving the work force and becoming dependent on the next, smaller generation.

Government interference into the family unit is scary and often has unintended consequences. Perhaps just as alarming, though, is that, according to the CIA's World Factbook, America's estimated total fertility rate is 2.05 (children per woman). China's is 1.79. That means the U.S. hovers just above the replacement birth rate of an average two children per women, while the U.S. abortion policy (one of many factors influencing the numbers) is purely voluntary.

I have reason to be thankful that my parents were not forced to choose whether I was a sound enough investment to let me live and be their one source of care in old age. But to me (unmarried, without children), all of these statistics and related serious economic forecast also shed new light on the topic of marriage. Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported on the seeming effect the economic recession was having on marriages in the U.S.:

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