Attrition: China and the Angry Bachelors

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January19, 2007: China is facing some interesting manpower problems. For over a generation, China has been making strenuous efforts to reduce the birth rate. China has 1.3 billion people, and it was obvious that a larger population could not be supported. As a result, the birth rate is now down to 1.7 (1.7 children, on average, per woman.) The United States rate is 2.06, and the world average is 2.5. The "replacement rate" (the number needed to keep the population stable) is 2.1. Thus, if China maintains its current birth rate, the population will slowly shrink during the 21st century.

But there's a catch, a rather interesting one. Many Chinese couple, particularly those living in urban areas, were restricted to one child. Culturally, the Chinese prefer males (as a form of birth control, since men cannot give birth, and can produce more food on a farm). Gender detection technology became available for pregnant women over the last few decades, and that led to many female fetuses being aborted. As a result, 118 boys are now being born for every 100 girls. In some areas, it's 130 boys for every hundred girls. Some children of the "gender selection" era have come of age, and the boys are noticing that there are not enough potential wives to go around. As a result, women from neighboring countries are being enticed into China, to marry desperate Chinese men. The neighboring countries are none to happy with this situation. Some of the young women are being kidnapped, or enticed under false pretences. Now it's not likely that any of China's neighbors are going to declare war on China over this, but it does make for unhappy neighbors.

Another interesting side-effect is that the wife shortage makes military service more attractive. Traditionally, Chinese soldiers tended to be single.The military has recently become more attractive to less educated men, because it's a job with decent pay and benefits. On the other end of the scale, the military is less attractive, for an educated man can make much more money in the booming civilian economy. The more educated fellows are also more likely to find a wife. Thus the guys who are less educated and talented are going to left without a wife, or at least without a Chinese one. China has traditionally encouraged men to marry, as it tends to keep them out of trouble. Now China is creating millions of young men who cannot get married, cannot get in the military (which is selective, and shrinking in size), and are not terribly happy about the situation. But at least the long feared population explosion was avoided. What all those antsy young men will do is another matter, that is still undetermined.

 


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