The very high sex ratio in rural China: impact on the psychosocial wellbeing of unmarried men

Soc Sci Med. 2011 Nov;73(9):1422-7. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.07.033. Epub 2011 Aug 27.


China has the highest male to female sex ratio at birth (SRB) in the world, with levels highest in poor rural areas. Rural-to-urban migration also occurs on a huge scale, but household registration regulations prevent rural-dwellers from settling permanently in cities. However, urban registration can be acquired through marriage and many rural females now acquire urban residence through this route. The purpose of this study was to examine areas where there is a high degree of rural-urban migration and a pronounced imbalance in the sex ratio of the population in the reproductive age groups and to explore the effects of this situation on the psychosocial wellbeing of older unmarried men in rural Guizhou, one of the poorest provinces in China. The study drew on two sources of data: (1) routine demographic data from 36 villages, and (2) in-depth semi-structured qualitative interviews with 45 unmarried men aged over 30. Our results show high levels of rural-urban migration leaving inland villages depleted of young people, especially women. There is a strong gradient across the age range in the ratio of unmarried males to females in all the villages from a ratio of 1.9 in the 20-24 age group, to a ratio of 75.0 in the 35-39 age group. Interviews with the unmarried men showed they blamed their failure to marry on poverty and the ease with which local women can marry-up to urbanites. Most felt a profound sense of failure describing themselves variously as: aimless, hopeless, miserable, sad, angry and lonely. While the SRB has recently fallen slightly in China, the problem of the gender imbalance is likely to continue for at least a generation, since the SRB has been very high in parts of rural China for 20 years, and women will continue to migrate away from rural areas in far larger numbers than men.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • China
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Rural Population*
  • Sex Ratio*
  • Spouses / psychology*