If you’re still single at 27, you’re a “leftover woman,” and you need to stop playing the field and catch a man. According to sociologist Leta Hong Fincher, that’s the hotly debated advice from the Chinese government. Fincher is an American doctorate-level PhD student studying in Beijing.
A recent report for Public Radio International stated that China has invested “big” in promoting the message on the state-run media. Its All-China Women’s Federation has published some heavy-handed propaganda in the past including a frequently quoted post stating, “As women age, they are worth less and less.”
Why the attack on the so-called leftover women’s pride? A new article by Jessica Levine for The Atlantic offers some harsh statistics. The overpopulated nation famously instituted its One-Child Policy in 1978. At that time, the culture valued boys more than girls. In rural areas where they could get away with it, sneaky parents sometimes practiced selective abortion and even infanticide to guarantee that the one child in question would be a boy.
Now, there are an estimated 40 to 50 million single men in China — many of them poor, rural, and uneducated. Levine says that an unmarried male population almost the size of Texas will be unable to find a mate within seven years.
Because Chinese men tend to marry “down,” choosing women who are younger, less educated, and less wealthy, the so-called leftover women are often the cream of the crop. Single women who pursue higher education instead of a man were dubbed “aging pearls” by one notorious All-China Women’s Federation post, resulting in an international outcry. The website ended up taking down the more outrageous articles.
A current post represents the softer sell. “When the Wife Earns More than the Husband,” edited by Sun Xi, urges the accomplished singles to emulate other successful Chinese women who have married less successful men:
“Zhang, as a well-known international actress, earns up to 79 million yuan (US$ 12.6 million) a year, nearly 80 times more than Sa…Why don’t we learn some marital skills from these star couples?”
But Chinese single women over 27 who still enjoy their freedom have another option. As Don Evon reported, high-achieving Chinese singles can now hire an attractive young man to pose as their boyfriend at family events. The ruse works because many successful young women work in big cities and only need to show up in their rural hometowns once a year.
High-achieving American single women can probably appreciate the pressure felt by their Chinese counterparts. As the iconic character Carrie from Sex and the City once said, “Some people are settling down, some people are settling and some people refuse to settle for anything less than butterflies.” She also noted that if she wasn’t married at 38, maybe it’s because she didn’t want to be.
Fincher has written that some Chinese women desperate to marry have signed over their homes to their husbands. A sensible “leftover woman” might prefer to keep her hands on her own property — and her own future.