The Burden of Finding a Bride

Written by: Skylar Nafziger

In a culture where a man’s main priority is building a family which he can provide for, the increasingly noticeable shortage of women in China creates a huge amount of pressure for men as they near the age of marriage. Ideally, the ratio of men to women would be equal. In China, men outnumbered women by a remarkable 115 men for every 100 women last year, equating to an excess of nearly 33 million men. 

The problem can be attributed to China’s “one-child” policy that was exercised until 2015, with the intention of combating the surging population that imposed many social and economic issues. Cultural norms, especially surrounding efforts to maintain the family lineage, led to a preference for male children and were what ultimately sparked the gender imbalance by causing an increase in gender-based abortions and adoptions. 

Now, not only are China’s men struggling, but their parents as well. Traditionally, mothers are expected to continue to cook and clean up after their son, who is an extra mouth to feed. In some instances, men and their parents have become so desperate for a marriage that their parents assist in their son’s search and make sacrifices in finding him a wife.

The desperation of these men has not only transformed the typical family structure but also created change within the Chinese economy. Men are rapidly building or ordering construction of houses with the hope it will make them a more attractive candidate, causing house prices to skyrocket. Men have become more willing to accept work in harsher conditions, a trend affecting the economy as well. Furthermore, these demographic shifts cause a trade surplus. Men are less eager to purchase consumer goods and would rather put the money towards the production of a home, or perhaps paying dowry to his potential in-laws. The value of dowries have also increased as women are more in demand, sometimes up to as much as $30,000 USD.

Danger lies in the fact that many men will go to whatever lengths necessary to acquire a bride. Women from other countries around the world, predominantly Cambodia, Russia, and Vietnam, are resorting to China in the efforts to marry, particularly those coming from an area of poverty and seek someone to provide for them. Although Chinese men struggle to find a Chinese woman to marry, they have come to utilize a different means of attaining a bride: human trafficking

Foreign women are being bought and, in many instances, are seen more as a slave than an actual wife. Between the years 2013 and 2017, an estimation of approximately 21,000 women were forcibly transported from Myanmar to China and sold as brides. Not only did these women anticipate being united with a loving husband, but many were also promised jobs. Soon it became clear, however, that would not be the case. Little action has been taken by law enforcement at the border and inside that has created conditions where human trafficking can escalate. With minimal help from these agencies, women and girls must take it upon themselves to escape from the detrimental situations they are in. In some instances, women have turned to social media as a way to get in contact with the outside world. Even the women who do make it back home receive little to no support and struggle to recover from the abuse they faced.  

Despite the limited effort to combat the issues related to the shortage of women, the logical and the most beneficial response would be creating an environment where women are valued the same as men. As of now, the leading attempt was repealing the one-child policy, but the rights of women continue to be violated as men remain desperate for wives. Since an increasing number of men are failing to marry, the fear Chinese families face when it comes to losing their lineage is even more prominent and their original efforts, including abortion and adoption, have caused the opposite effect of which they had hoped.