UQ Love Letters got you feeling down? Anyone else looking for a Harry to their Meghan? Whilst the Pubs team at UQES might not be able to solve your dating woes, you can thank your lucky stars you’re not a single guy living in China!

China has one serious bachelor problem with the dating market almost entirely saturated by males thanks to the government’s infamous One Child Policy (OCP). When the final remnants of this policy were scrapped in 2016, libertarians and human activists celebrated alike, with the change set to relieve certain economic pressures that had resulted in rapidly declining birth rates and an aging population. In fact, it seems the economic repercussions of the original policy, first implemented in 1979, extended to areas of society the government could never have initially imagined, affecting the housing market, the human trafficking sector and, most interestingly, the country’s dating industry.

So how exactly did the One Child Policy come to be? At the time of the policy’s implementation, China faced a prolonged period of low agricultural productivity and economic stagnation. In true neoclassical style, the government hoped that slowing population growth might boost income per capita and lead to a transitory increase in economic growth, at least in the short term. Think Solow-Swan model: if we decrease our population growth rate, we will be diluting our capital base less by having fewer people to spread it across. The resulting increase in capital intensity should be more easily maintained and, voilà, you’ve achieved a higher steady state output per capita (at least in theory).

It is estimated that approximately 400 million births were averted as a result of the OCP, resulting in a significant shift in the demographic dynamics of the world’s most populous country. Traditionally, Chinese couples tended to favour male heirs, harbouring the belief that a son would do a better job at financially supporting them in their old age. With the government financially rewarding those who adhered to the OCP and penalising those who did not, fertility rates rapidly declined and the strong cultural preference for sons caused a sharp increase in the number of induced abortions of female babies. As a result, the country now faces the problem of a severely disproportionate sex ratio, with approximately 119 males for every 100 females according to the research of Therese Hesketh from the Centre for International Health and Development.

 

And as this generation reaches marriageable age, many bachelors are finding it increasingly difficult to find a wife, with the ratio of single men to women set to be as high as 186:100 by 2050, effectively inducing a ‘marriage squeeze’. As such, the rising sex imbalance has quite literally transformed the dating industry into a true economic market. With the laws of supply and demand working in full force, the relative scarcity of women is granting them bargaining power, where the so-called ‘bride price’, which a prospective groom must traditionally pay to the family of his future wife, skyrocketing from an average of RMB 30,000 (AUD 6,190) to RMB 100,000 (AUD 20,630) over a four-year period. Brides can quite literally ‘shop around’, demanding betrothal gifts that may include property and can total to more than four time the average Chinese worker’s annual salary.

The marriage squeeze isn’t all bad news though. The gender imbalance has also elevated the position of women within society, with the gender education gap rapidly diminishing and the career prospects for females constantly expanding. Moreover, some researchers claim that high bride prices are serving to amplify the growth the Chinese economy has experienced these past few years. According to Xiaobo Zhang of Peking University, China’s rising sex ratio has contributed up to two percentage points of national GDP and can explain between 30-48% of the appreciation observed in the country’s real estate market over recent periods.

Despite this, the economic effects of the Chinese One Child Policy remain somewhat ambiguous. Whilst the policy is claimed to have provided the country with a significant ‘demographic dividend’ with a greater proportion of the population now of working age, the policy is also blamed for accelerating the aging of the population, inevitably burdening the government with significant medical and age care costs. Regardless, the social implications of the OCP are clear: an estimated 30 million men will be left looking for a wife in 2030 but their efforts will be to no avail.

However, the abolition of the One Child Policy, as well as ludicrous bride prices acting as economic signals as to the financial burdens of sons, provide hope for future generations with the disproportionate sex ratio anticipated to fall in the future. It will certainly be interesting to observe the extensive social implications of the OCP, which are only just now being brought to light. On a sidenote however, would anyone else be keen to see how a Chinese version of The Bachelorette plays out?

 

 

By Emma Beal

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