Under the rule of Chairman Mao Zadong, the People’s Republic of China implemented a policy which stated that Chinese couples would only be allowed to have one child. The measure, which was started in 1979, was a way to control population, which officials thought was growing too fast. The controversial act is still in use today, although it has been relaxed to a slight degree; especially in rural China. One of the problems with the policy was that Chinese culture puts an emphasis on having a son. As a result, in the Chinese population, there is an incredible imbalance in the sex ratio, with about 100 women for every 120 men in some areas. That means by 2020, there will be 30-40 million men who will not have a partner. To give that some perspective, Canada has about 34 million people. Social scientists believe that this upset in the sex ratio will have some terrifying consequences that could play out in the next couple of years.
10. Increased Poverty
There is no doubt that raising a family is expensive. Economists estimate that raising a child in the United States to the age of 18 costs a parent at least $143,000. Reason would stand that a single man without children would have plenty of money as he grows older. However, a study published in 2011, showed that in areas where men outnumber women, men actually have a tendency to spend more and are more likely to go into debt. The reason for this is that they are not as concerned about their future. After all, they only have to look after themselves so they are more willing to indulge and not save their money. Another reason men are more reckless with their money is that women’s expectations go up if they realize that there are less females. They want men to fight for their affection, while men spend more in order to look impressive. Not to mention that they have to also impress the family as well, which could be quite expensive. This could be really devastating to China, who has come to dominate the world financial scene in the past decades. What happens if millions of single men with no descendants or other living family members dies while owing money? Whose responsibility is it to cover that debt? It would probably fall on the government and would they be able to support the debt of tens of millions of men?
9. Less Support for Senior Citizens
One of the reasons that a son was considered to be important in Chinese culture, was because before the Chinese government created a pension system the son or sons were supposed to take care of the parents and the grandparents after they retired. If a woman married, she was expected to help support her husband’s family and not her own. As a result, sons were a better investment for the family in old age. While times have changed and there is a better pension system, notions towards sons and daughters has evolved slowly. The problem is that by 2020, 24% of China will be over 65-years-old. If that holds true, their pension system would be out of money by 2030. So over time pension payouts may become smaller, forcing families to rely on one single child to help them. The one child policy has three direct effects on seniors in China. The first is that parents who had a daughter will have no one to support them and may not have support from the government if the pension runs out. The second is that now a single couple will be responsible for supporting themselves, a child, their parents and also possibly the grandparents. That is a lot to do with one, possibly two salaries or working one small farm. The third is that, while Chinese officials claim that the measure prevented 400 million births, it means there are less people to support the pensioners. China has realized how devastating this could be to their country and have increased the retirement age by five years, but many fear it is too late. The lack of children will cause the workforce to stay constant while the amount of pensioners rises.
8. Rise in Slavery
Chances are, poor Chinese men will not be able to get a wife. In Chinese culture, men who cannot get wives, often referred to as “bare branches,” are looked down upon. In order to escape that, either for better job prospects or moving to a country where there are more women, Chinese men are taking desperate measures. In order to move, they can be subject to Debt Bondage, which is essentially a form of slavery. It’s when someone promises to pay a debt, often to an employer, but the employer ensures that the debt will never be paid off or the job will never be done. The worst part is that this can go on for generations. The migrant workers are often young men with little-to-medium skill levels. They get involved with the wrong type of people and they are either smuggled overseas or forced into labor camps in other parts of China where they work off a debt they will never be able to pay off.
7. Increased Levels of Homosexuality
One of the more controversial theories of what could arise out of the one child policy is that it will lead to a rise in homosexuality. The theory is controversial because homosexuality is often touted as being born that way and not a choice. It’s not like choosing Pepsi because there is no Coke; love and attraction are much more complicated. However, with a lack of choice, the only connection some men will feel is with other men. Interestingly enough, one theory on how to actually help the bare branch problem is for the Chinese government to allow gay marriage or at least promote gay rights. In China, there is a big stigma against gay men, so like many gay men in similar societies, they end up marrying women. This has lead to a problem, where Chinese scholar Zhang Beichuan estimates there are 16 million men who are gay, but are actually married to women. He proposes if gay marriage were to be allowed, it would free up at least a little bit of women to ease the bare branch situation a bit.
6. Increased Human Trafficking
Sadly, China’s policy is going to have drastic effects on other countries besides their own, specifically Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and North Korea. With a lack of women in their own country, the market for prostitution and selling women as brides has become big business for human traffickers who are taking women from countries around China. The women are often lured by the prospective of a job or by someone posing as a boyfriend to trick them. Sadly, they can even be sold by their own family members, or they are just straight up kidnapped. Once in China, they can be forced into prostitution or sold as a bride for as little as $1500. It is estimated that in total, there are over 50,000 women who have been sold as brides or forced into prostitution in China.
5. Higher STI and HIV Rates
One of the biggest dangers that China could be facing is a rise of sexually transmitted diseases and a big part of it stems from the lack of women. One of the main problems is that men in rural China aren’t educated about safe sex. Even if they were, condoms are not readily available. This has become an extremely fertile place for sexual transmitted infections, including HIV. There are three definite elements that the lack of women contributes to the possibility of higher STI rates. The first is that there are some women who have multiple partners. In addition to that, there is the increase in prostitution, which could create a devastating hub for viruses to spread. The third way is from the rise in homosexuality and bi-sexuality, because men having sex with other men are much more susceptible to catching the HIV virus. An even bigger problem is that these men will not just stay in their own area. Currently, poor migrant workers are travelling to different parts of China and other parts of Asia for work, meaning that an epidemic could grow further than just the borders of China.
4. More Violent Crimes
One of the biggest problems of China’s one child policy is the way Chinese society views the single “bare branch” males. They are often looked down upon or viewed as failures. As a result, there will be a bunch of angry, sexually frustrated men who are despised by a society for reasons that the same society created. Some feel that China is a ticking time bomb for violence. One of the major violent crime stats that is expected to rise is sexual assault. One reason could just be a physical need. Not that young men who can’t get sex are not in control of themselves; but if they want it bad enough and society looks down on them already, what is stopping them from committing crimes like rape? The second violent crime that is expected to rise is mass murder or mass attacks. In fact, beginning in 2010, Chinese schools began suffering from a rash of knife attacks where young men, sometimes by themselves or a group of them, enter a school and start stabbing and slashing at as many children as they can.
3. Higher Suicide Rates
One would think that depression would run rampant among the bare branch men. It must be a hopeless feeling that leads to more suicides. What’s amazing is that Chinese women are more likely to kill themselves than males. If you compare suicide rates in China and India (which also has a problem with male to female ratio) they have more female suicides, while countries in the Western World have a higher rate of male suicide. Even crazier, out of all females who take their own life in the world, Chinese women of childbearing age account for 55% of all of them. Suicide is the leading cause of death of women, between the ages of 18 and 34 in Chinese rural areas. In fact, suicide is so rampant among Chinese women that the BBC estimates that a Chinese woman kills herself every four minutes. This only worsens the problem of not enough women. The question also arises as to why exactly would these women, who should be appreciated more, are taking their own lives? One of the biggest factors that contribute to suicide is a fight or marital problems, including spousal abuse. It would seem logical that in a country with less women and more men, that women would have better odds of finding their right match. However, that isn’t the case. If you look at how Chinese culture expected the son to support the family and if a couple only had a daughter, then their best hope is to marry off their daughter to someone who is rich and vows to take care of them. This can be a dehumanizing process that shows women as possessions. It also forces women into less than ideal marriages.
2. More Organized Crime
Throughout history there have been many examples of angry, young men with little to no prospects who have resorted to violence to better their place in society. It should come as no shock that organized crime is expected to rise in China over the next few years. Besides just having the sheer amount of men, another thing that is needed for organized crime to flourish is meeting a demand that the government either prohibits or doesn’t provide for. For example, prohibition gangsters in the United States were successful selling alcohol and inner city gangs in the 1980’s gained strength by selling crack-cocaine. Where organized Chinese gangs are going to succeed is through the problems we already covered in prior entries like human trafficking, prostitution, selling wives and debt bondage. As of right now, China does sees the increase of gangs and secret societies as just a normal, local problem. However, many of the loose gangs are acting together on national and international levels. This could have devastating results because the gangs could ban together and lead to…
When looking at the problem of having too many single men, social scientists look at other times in history for similar examples. Crazy enough, this is not the first time China has had a problem with a surplus of men. In 1850, after a series of floods there was an abundance of men due to infanticide in the rural areas of China. The single men loosely banded together and created a force of 100000. They raped and pillaged towns and villages before leading a rebellion against the Qing dynasty that lasted from 1851 to 1868. While the rebellion wasn’t victorious, it was devastating to the Qiang dynasty economically and it completely depleted their resources. It was one of the main events that led to the end the dynasty. In 1850, the ratio of women to men was 129 to 120. Chinese officials are aware of the problem, that they will have tens of millions of angry, sexually frustrated men with no employment prospects, living in a society that puts a strong emphasis on social class. It would only be a matter of time before these men start protesting. Since there is no simple solution to the problem, protests could lead to violence. If the protesters were to organize like in the Arab Spring, or if they were given guidance and funding from organized crime gangs it could cause unprecedented instability in the country. In a worst case scenario, they could even wrest control of China, meaning one of the world’s superpowers could be taken over by organized criminal networks or just angry men looking for women. Either way, China’s future is looking very uncertain because of a drastic choice they made in the past. Interestingly enough, some social scientists do not believe the one child policy was all that effective. By the time it was introduced, the average amount of children a couple would have had dropped from five to two. So while it did slow population slightly, the only thing it did ensure was that there is a lack of women.