In Foreign Policy, Roseann Lake looks at the complicated social and economic factors that have led to China’s real estate bubble. She focuses on the pressure on single men to own property in order to attract a potential spouse, which has driven up housing prices across the country:
As a result of the real estate boom, reports in Chinese media indicate that the average property in a top-tier Chinese city now costs between 15 and 20 times the average annual salary, though J.P. Morgan reports indicate something closer to 13. (For purposes of comparison, in most of the world’s cities, the housing-cost-to-income ratio hovers between 3-to-1 and 6-to-1, rounding out at about 3-to-1 in the United States.) This is especially problematic in China, where thanks to still-prevalent Confucian ideals of the male as the “provider,” home ownership has become an unspoken prerequisite to marriage.
It’s a tough, competitive life for men in China these days, in part due to the aftershocks of the one-child policy, which has left the country with a gaping gender imbalance of 120 boys for every 100 girls. Author Mara Hvistendahl reports in her book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, that by late 2020, 15 percent (or roughly one in six) Chinese men of marriageable age will be unable to find a bride. She predicts that China will see an increase in what’s already happening in Taiwan and South Korea, where men doomed to bachelorhood as a result of gender imbalance are boarding planes to Vietnam. Roughly $10,000 covers their flight, room and board, and the price of a Vietnamese wife, according to Hvistendahl, and this practice has become so common that the imported wives “get a booklet translated into Vietnamese explaining their rights when they get married at the Taiwanese Consulate.”
While the most disadvantaged are the country’s poor male farmers, who now live at society’s rock bottom in rural villages devoid of women their age (as females tend to leave in search of better jobs and marriage prospects), the marriage challenge is rippling its way up through the classes. It is manifested most clearly in China’s real estate market, where — given the highly desirable nature of property — men are pouring all their savings as a means of improving their chances of finding Mrs. Right, or any Mrs. for that matter.
“Mathematically, they can’t get married,” says Zhang, referring to younger Chinese men and their double burden of financial demands and the shortage of available women to marry. In 1994, he moved out of his danwei to study for a Ph.D. at Cornell University in the United States. Today, he works as a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington and as a professor at Peking University. Along with Columbia University economist Shang-Jin Wei, he has published several studies on China’s economic growth, including one that shows how 30 to 48 percent (or $8 trillion worth) of the real estate appreciation in 35 major Chinese cities is directly correlated with China’s sex-ratio imbalance and a man’s need to acquire wealth (property) in order to attract a wife.
Researcher Leta Hong Fincher has previously looked at this problem from a woman’s perspective by examining how women are often shut out of the booming real estate market due to social and cultural factors which emphasize a male’s accumulation of wealth.