Leta Hong Fincher: China’s “Leftover” Women

In Ms. Magazine, Leta Hong Fincher writes about the term “leftover” women to refer to those who have not married by the age of 27. She also explains why the government promotes the sexist term as a way to manage the country’s skewed demographics, and how it impacts women’s decisions once they do marry:

In China, the sexist term “leftover woman,” sheng nu, is widely used to describe an urban, professional female over the age of 27 who is still single. This derogatory term has been aggressively disseminated by the Chinese government, warning women that they will become spinsters if they do not marry by the time they turn 30. The irony of the media campaign is that China’s sex-ratio imbalance has resulted in a surplus of tens of millions of men who will not be able to find a bride.

In 2007, China’s Ministry of Education added the term “leftover woman” to its official lexicon, according to state media reports. In 2010, the All-China Women’s Federation and other government groups carried out a nationwide survey of more than 30,000 people in 31 provinces. Their findings on “leftover women” have been publicized repeatedly by China’s official media.

[…] China’s preference for boys, combined with its one-child policy, has resulted in the abortion of tens of millions of female fetuses. But does the resulting sex-ratio imbalance mean that women really have the upper hand in the marriage market? Although some women no doubt have married for money, I have so far found very little evidence that women overall have turned their scarcity into economic gain. On the contrary, my research suggests that Chinese women have largely missed out on what is arguably the biggest accumulation of real estate wealth in history, valued at more than $17 trillion in 2010, according to HSBC Bank. Many women have been shut out of the explosion of housing wealth because homes appreciating exponentially in value tend to be registered solely in the man’s name. Chinese parents tend to buy homes for sons but not daughters. And women often transfer all of their financial assets to their husband or boyfriend to finance the purchase of a home registered in the man’s name alone.

I believe that a key reason why so many educated women in their mid-20s act against their own economic interests when they marry is that they genuinely believe the government-propagated myth about “leftover women.” These women make excessive personal and financial compromises out of fear that they will never find a husband otherwise.

November 23, 2011 1:08 PM
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