Impact of One Child Policy on China's marriage markets

Marrying Up in China

Jan 13, 2014 • Behavioral Economics, Demand, Supply, and Markets, Gender gap, Government, Households, Labor, Thinking Economically • 271 Views    No Comments

  • “There is an opinion that A quality guys will find B quality women,  quality guys will find C quality women, and C quality men will find D quality women…The people left are A quality women and D quality men.”

Huang Yuanyuan, commenting on marriage in China during a PRI interview

In China, younger woman marry up. Experiencing the impact of an SRB (sex ratio at birth) of 120 men for every 100 women, the women can be choosier. Meanwhile, the men try to make themselves more attractive. In cities where men outnumber women, real estate tends to be pricier and more houses have third floors–sometimes fake third floors that look real from the outside –because marriage brokers refuse to introduce women to men who do not have more affluent homes.

Why can younger women marry up? When Chinese men marry down, it is not only education but also age. Older men marry younger women but older women do not marry younger men. As a result, we wind up with a cohort of “A quality” females, who have a tougher time finding the right man.

Interviewed by PRI, Huang Yuanyuan is an “A quality woman who has an MA from a top school. She works in a Beijing radio newsroom, has a good salary and her own apartment. Called a “leftover woman” because she is unmarried at 29, she feels huge pressure to find a husband.

Chinese marriage markets

In Chinese marriage markets, Huang Yuanyuan is on the supply side. Providing more if “price” is high and less when it is low, the supply curve representing the number of marriageable single Chinese women is upward sloping. When we draw the demand curve for the men who are looking for wives, we can see why more “A quality” women are unmarried.

Chinese Marriage Markets demand and supply

In the United States, when more women started working outside the home, their supply curve reflected an increase in their value in marriage markets.

Sources and Resources: I recommend combining economist Robert Frank’s NY Times marriage market column or Nobel Laureate Gary Becker’s 1974 paper on marriage markets with PRI’s recent program to see the impact of China’s one child policy on Chinese marriage markets. For still more, you might want to look at the World Bank’s statistics on China’s gender gap and a recent econlife look at how China’s single child policy affected baby formula sales and entrepreneurship.

Note: We have slightly edited the wording and title of this post after it appeared.

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