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Male Singlehood and Poverty in Rural China

Male Singlehood
Over the past few decades, China has experienced an increase in unmarried young males aged 30 years and older. And this is especially the case in rural China. In the cultural context of China, marriage is a highly valued social norm, so there is a stigma that people attach to male singlehood. Rural men in China, who stay single in their late 30s, face the risk of being on the receiving end of mockery from their relatives. Although many young men in rural China are willing to marry, they are likely to suffer the experience of life-long singlehood, according to an exploratory survey. Here is some information about the link between male singlehood and poverty in rural China.

Harmful Customs in Rural China

The high cost of marriage is one of the leading causes behind the low rate of marriage. Low-income people in rural areas in China cannot afford to marry. As per the Chinese pre-wedding customs, the groom has to give betrothal gifts, including cash, jewelry and even motor vehicles to the bride and her family before the marriage. Most rural families make their livelihoods from agriculture and their recorded annual income was only 20,133 yuan (or 2,930 U.S. dollars) in 2022. However, the betrothal gift also called the “bride price” can cost tens of thousands of dollars which is 10 times higher than a rural family’s annual income. Therefore, low-income families cannot afford the cost of marriage.

In rural China, many believe that after daughters marry, they should transfer economic loyalties to their husbands. Therefore, many regard the tradition of “bride price” as the groom’s financial compensation to the bride’s family for raising their daughter. Old parents in rural China, especially those who live in extreme poverty, rely heavily on their sons to support them through old age. Considering these conditions, many rural couples have exercised gender selection by aborting female fetuses or even killing female newborns. As a result, the sex ratio in rural China increased to approximately 108 males to 100 females in 2021. The lack of women in rural China’s marriage market has increased the “bride price,” thereby imposing a significant financial burden on poor men who want to get married.

Women’s Education in Rural China

To solve the problem of male singlehood, suggestions point toward eradicating harmful traditional customs. The possible first step could involve elevating rural women’s socio-economic status. Women’s education could also be impactful. Since 1989, with the support of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF) has launched the “Women’s Literacy Action” and the “Learning and Competition” campaign. According to a report by UNESCO, these programs have encouraged 200 million rural women to receive agricultural training and helped 1.5 million rural women to obtain agricultural qualifications and certificates.

These programs have enabled many rural women to receive education and skills training, increasing their workforce participation. Furthermore, these programs have helped women to realize that harmful traditions such as gender selection and betrothal gifts deprive women’s rights, and therefore, should have no place in society.

China’s New Cooperative Medical Scheme (NCMS)

In rural China, low-income childless single men have high financial risks. Over the past few decades, the Chinese government has been improving the elderly care and medical insurance system in rural areas. In 2003, the government launched the New Cooperative Medical Scheme (NCMS), an insurance scheme designed specifically for rural residents with the goal of “providing equal financial protection for all enrollees.” Its coverage rose from 11.63% in 2005 to 80.34% in 2014. Since 2003, it has helped hundreds of millions of rural residents reduce the risk of catastrophic health expenditure.

Looking Ahead

There are around 30 million unmarried men in China, mostly from poor rural communities. To solve this problem, China made great efforts in rural education and poverty reduction, with the support of international organizations such as UNESCO. While there is still a long way to go due to the scale of the issue, the progress so far offers a glimmer of hope.

– Chengyan Zhu
Photo: Flickr