Academic journal article Population

Male Singlehood, Poverty and Sexuality in Rural China: An Exploratory Survey

Academic journal article Population

Male Singlehood, Poverty and Sexuality in Rural China: An Exploratory Survey

Article excerpt

In China, marriage is still a highly valued social norm, and until the 1990s, practically everyone was able to marry. The situation has changed, however, and a rising proportion of men, in rural areas especially, will experience prolonged and even permanent singlehood due to the growing shortage of women on the marriage market (Banister, 2004). In the cultural context of China, singlehood is a state of frustration, and even of deprivation, for which it is difficult to find socially acceptable compensations: having children, living with a partner, having sexual relations, are aspects of life from which single men may be excluded.

While several attempts have been made to measure the impact on male singlehood of a shortage of women (Li et al., 2006 ; Tuljapurkar et al., 1995), little is known about the effects of singlehood on men's personal situation. How, and to what extent, can unwanted singlehood affect the lives of the men concerned? Do they find alternative means to achieve a satisfactory sexual life? Are their socioeconomic characteristics different from those of married men? These are all questions to which the "survey on the family situation and reproductive health of single men in rural China" (Zhongguo nongcun nanxing shengzhi jiankang he jiating shenghuo diaocha), conducted in 2008 in a rural county of Anhui province (referred to here as JC county) sought to find answers. This is an exploratory survey on a subject (sexuality) which remains sensitive in China. It aims to identify new research questions and to pave the way for further data collection initiatives. Only the results illustrating the specific characteristics of single men, by contrast with married men, will be presented here.

I. An exploratory survey on a sensitive topic

General research background

Like many other societies across the world, China is a country where marriage is traditionally universal (Blayo, 1997), and an obligatory first stage in family formation. Chinese society is still imbued with Confucianist tradition which places particular value upon the continuation of the family line and upon filial piety. In the Chinese context, these virtues can only be expressed through formal union and the production of descendants, two stages considered as essential in the life of an individual. Marriage is a means not only to perpetuate patrilineal traditions (Liu, 2005), but also to establish new kinship ties useful to the development of social and economic networks (Johnson, 1992). Chinese society offers few alternatives to marriage. Non-marital cohabitation - extremely rare - is generally no more than a preliminary to marriage, and being single is not a valued status (Evans, 1997; Li and Jin, 2006). In the fifth census (2000), among the 30-34 age group, only 7.5% of men and 1.3% of women had never been married; at age 50 the proportions were just 4.1% and 0.2%, respectively, below the levels recorded in other countries of the region (Attané and Barbieri, 2009).

Yet universal marriage is set to become a thing of the past, for men at least, firstly because of the change in the sex ratio. When the number of births decreases rapidly over time, as is the case in China since the 1970s, the cohorts of men entering the marriage market at a given age are larger than those of the slightly younger women - given the age difference between spouses - who are available to marry them (MacDonald, 1995). This results in a surplus of men with respect to potential wives who are a few years their junior, making it difficult for men to find marriage partners. While this imbalance can be attenuated by various adjustment processes (more frequent female remarriage, increase in age difference between spouses, or marriages with foreign women) (Li et al., 2006 ; Le Bach et al., 2007), a fraction of the male population will be excluded from marriage. Moreover, this phenomenon is aggravated by the elimination of unwanted girls,(1) which has created a growing deficit of women among the cohorts born since the 1980s, (Attané, 2010) and, in certain regions, by female emigration to more developed regions (Fan and Huang, 1998). …

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