On the train coming home from work this evening I read an article in my Chicago Tribune about the phenomenon of shengnu, or “leftover women,” in China. (Here is a copy that is not behind a pay wall.) You really should read the article, but for the lazy among you I’ll try to hit the high points:
- Shengnu is a somewhat intentionally pejorative term for single women in their late 20s who remain unmarried, much to the chagrin of both their parents and the government. (Although I should point out that some women are reclaiming the term, taking it to mean “successful women.”)
- In China, it is traditional for women to get married by age 27, but the marriage age has been increasing. Many women are well educated, have good jobs and apartments, and have higher standards in men than used to be the case when marriage was pretty much the only life route available to them.
- In theory, women should have plenty of men to choose from, due to China’s one-child policy and the reality of selective sex-based abortion. But on average the women are quite accomplished, and in Chinese culture a woman doesn’t marry “down” in social or economic class. So in reality there are not enough accomplished, desirable men, and an overabundance of “leftover men,” especially in the countryside, who have no realistic hope of ever marrying.
- These women are under intense pressure to marry. Traditional–and desperate–parents hire matchmakers, often paying exorbitant fees.
- The reality is 90% of Chinese women are married by age 35, so they’re not avoiding marriage altogether, just delaying it (albeit more than their parents are comfortable with). They just want a man who is worthy of them; they want attraction, romance, love.
As I read the article, I thought it was interesting to compare and contrast this situation with what we find in our Mormon culture.
First, I was interested that 27 is the age at which marriage is expected; our typical marriage age is much younger than that.
Second, I was fascinated that the demographic situations are the opposite: way more men than women in China, way more women than men among Mormon singles. And yet in both cultures there is a phenomenon that can be described as “leftover women” that don’t want to settle for what are perceived as inadequate men.
So although the situations are different, in both cases we have women who are under tremendous pressure to marry, but for whom the prospects are not perceived as adequate, and who therefore delay or even forego marriage.
So what do you think about this? Do we have our own phenomenon of shengnu, or “leftover women”? If so, what, if anything, can and should we do about it?