The problem of too many men and not enough women in Chinese villages is likely to become much worse, a researcher warned.
China has 32 million more men aged under 20 than women, a paper published last month by Therese Hesketh of University College London. Her research suggests that rural areas, where the imbalance is greatest, will be further affected because of women “marrying out” and going to live in cities.
“It looks as if high sex-ratio areas, particularly in central China, are likely to get worse. Because of migration, we are hearing again and again that women are going to urban areas and staying. In rural areas that will exacerbate the sex ratio very markedly,” she said.
“In the past, migrants have tended to go back home to permanently settle. But women [now] are finding partners in urban areas and not going back. Men are unable to do that. Urban women will not marry a migrant man; men can’t marry up,” she said.
Hesketh said her team had not set out to investigate the problem, but rural men had frequently raised the issue. The researchers are now embarking on a fuller study to try to assess the extent of the problem.
Farmers have been migrating to cities since the 1990s, but Hesketh believes the numbers have soared as it becomes easier for migrants to settle in the cities.
Her paper in the British Medical Journal last month, which was coauthored by Wei Xing Zhu of Zhejiang Normal University, and Li Lu of Zhejiang University, says China has 119 male births for every 100 girls, compared with a ratio of 107 to 100 in industrialized countries.
“We have never seen these sex ratios before. There have been populations where the sex ratio has altered, but never to this degree,” Hesketh said.
The biggest male-female gap is among children under the age of four, meaning the problem of “bare branches” — young men who cannot find partners or have children — is likely to increase.
The gap is greater in provinces that allow couples in rural areas to have a second child if their first is a girl, since many families are determined to ensure they have at least one son. Among second-borns, boys outnumber girls by 143 to 100. The data is based on the 2005 census.
Sex-selective abortion, banned but still widely practiced, is the main reason for the higher number of males, the study suggests.
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