Female or Male Leftovers?
For Chinese women, success can be a problem.
China’s working women are becoming more affluent. And perhaps for that reason, there has been a backlash. The single, intelligent, successful female has been maligned by the All-China Women’s Federation, a state feminist agency. Calling them the “leftover” (sheng nu) women, the government agency has suggested these ladies should be focusing less on their careers and more on finding a man. One journalist connects the “leftover women” campaign to China’s extra men–118 for every 100 women–that resulted from China’s one child policy. Hoping to marry, the last thing men need is a choosy 30-year old date.
With women achieving professional success, with their status in marriage ascending, and with men having to prove their desirability, China is seeing how economic change has affected the institution of marriage. Yes, arranged marriages were the norm until the 1980s, even though Mao outlawed them 60 years ago. But now, as Gong Haiyan, the woman who founded China’s largest online dating service explains, women looking for men list as their key criteria, his salary, his house and his height. Instead of leftover women, as a New Yorker writer suggests, it sounds like China has leftover men.
Our bottom line: In The Price of Everything, Eduardo Porter says that as women increasingly entered the labor force in the US, American society profoundly changed. One cause of the change was the new price of women’s labor. Once women worked outside the home, they became more “valuable.” Sounds like China.
A final fact: Looking at a list of the wealthiest 100 people in China, you would see 6 female self-made billionaires. All in their 40s except for one, and all married except for one, 4 of these affluent women made their money in real estate.
Sources and Resources: Reading about the changing relationship between men and women in China, my favorite article was the New Yorker profile of Gong Haiyan, the woman who started Jiayuan (“Beautiful Destiny”), China’s biggest online dating service. The New Yorker’s notes about China took me to the articles about “leftover women,” here and here. Finally, for China’s female billionaires, here is the Forbes list.