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  • Writer's pictureDurham Pro Bono Blog


Updated: Feb 7, 2022

By Sik Wing Law Vivian

Illustration: Craig Stephens

China ended 1970 with a population of 829,920,000 people, which represents an increase of 23,208,000 people compared to 1969, and from 1950 through the 1970s, children 10 or younger constituted a larger percentage of China’s expanding population than any other age group. In order to control the fast-growing trend of population, the central government of China adopted one-child policy in the early 1980s to limit the great majority of families in China to having one child only. It was announced in late 2015 that the program was to end in early 2016 and China now is advocating the three-child policy. Because of the one-child policy, the number of children born per woman dropped from 2.6 in the year when the policy began to around 1.7 in 2015 when the central government officially abandoned the policy. Though this policy successfully slower the growth of population, it leaves China with the problem of gender imbalance and low marriage rate.

New marriage licenses fell to a 13-year low of 5.9 Million in the three-quarters of 2021 and the number of marriages has declined for eight consecutive years. One of the causes of this phenomenon is the greater number of men than women in China. Under the one-child policy, families in China tended to cultivate a sense of sex discrimination and they would try to give birth to boys rather than girls under the limited capacity of their children. Some of them eventually underreported female births, female infanticide, sex-selective abortion, adoption of baby girls so as to escape from the harsh punishment of violating the policy. The phenomenon of gender imbalance and unusual shortfall of the number of a female population due to cultural influences and government is coined as the term “missing women” by economist Amartya Sen. In 2010, there are around 690 million of men and 657 million of women in China. Among these people, it is reported that there are 2.2 million single men and 1.2 single women aged 25-34.

The problem of low marriage rate is further worsened by the independent characteristics of the Chinese women in the 21st Century, they no longer put marriage at their top priority. Under the one-child policy, more resources are provided to them by their parents and schools, they become more educated and do very well in the workplace. Many of them would choose to wed later or stay single for their life because this would give them more time to develop their careers. A survey conducted by China’s Communist Youth League suggested that about half of the urban Chinese women do not plan to get married. For the case of rural girls, a survey in May of young adults in

Lishui, a rural county in eastern China, the local statistics bureau found that 60 percent of female respondents considered marriage necessary.

The change of women’s minds is also part of the result of the great development in China. After the Reform and Opening Up in 1978 and following the fact that China become the second-largest economy in the world, there are simply a lot of alternative lifestyles that people can enjoy on their own, they can lead an enjoyable life without a need to have a spouse. The influx of Western ideas also make cohabitation and casual sex relationship more common. The need for marriage is gradually diminishing, for young people, they may think this is what the older generation put emphasis on but not them.

On the one hand, the one-child policy effectively controls the growth of the population in China. On the other hand, it creates the problems of low marriage age and gender imbalance. It is a very good chance for the people to consider whether such as intrusive measure taken by the Government is appropriate to tackle the problem of over-population and are there any other better alternatives.


1] A new survey has found that almost half of China's urban young women don't plan to get married

2] Marriage License Applications Fall to 13-Year Low in China

3] Missing women in China

4] Population in China 2011-2021, by gender

5] Why people aren’t getting married in China

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