China’s deeply skewed sex ratio is expected to lead to a population of lifelong bachelors roughly the size of Texas by 2020. With fewer chances at parenthood under the one-child policy, the ancient preference for boys has led families to selectively abort their girls following the introduction of ultrasound technology. In China, 120 boys are born for every 100 girls. In some regions, the imbalance is as stark as 150 to 100. Some of these small rural hamlets have been nicknamed “bachelor villages” for their populations of aging single men.

With support from the Pulitzer Center, Deborah Jian Lee and Sushma Subramanian travel to China to explore the ramifications of the gender imbalance in the world’s most populous country. They report on the men in poor villages who can’t keep up in this competitive marriage market and whose prospects for finding a wife grow increasingly dim with each passing year. They investigate the gender imbalance’s impact on women – from bachelorettes who benefit from a glut of suitors to women who are sold by their families, or trafficked from poorer regions, to marry the leftover single men.

Experts predict that China’s marriage squeeze could radically alter Chinese society. Some researchers have said China’s ballooning savings rate, unparalleled in the world, could be a result of families’ pressure to accumulate cash to attract wives for their sons. Eventually, this trend could create a new marriage economy, encouraging lower-class parents to select for daughters to marry into wealthy families. Others forecast social unrest caused by the sexual frustration of a growing group of wifeless men. With an even starker gender imbalance looming for the next generation, the gender disparity, and its consequences, will only swell.

Deborah Jian Lee's picture
Deborah Jian Lee is a freelance journalist and independent radio producer based in New York City. Her articles have been published by Marie Claire, The Washington Post, Reuters...
Sushma Subramanian's picture
Sushma Subramanian is a freelance health and science journalist based in New York. Her articles have appeared in New York magazine, The New York Times, Scientific American...

China’s Bachelors: When Men Outnumber Women