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Being a single man in rural China

Population and Societies

557, July-August 2018

Many men in China have no choice but to remain single – a preoccupying situation, as this mass of unmarried men is perceived there as a threat to the social order. Drawing on data from the DefiChine survey, Isabelle Attané and her colleagues examine the factors of male singlehood in rural China and call into question a number of common assumptions held there, including the idea that men who cannot get married are more inclined to engage in high-risk or socially disapproved practices.

Those who are single in rural China are almost exclusively men. The presence of excess men in the population combines with internal migration and women’s quest for upward social mobility through marriage to explain this phenomenon. The DefiChine survey sheds light on the situation of single men in three rural districts of Shaanxi. One of its findings is that, although the shortage of women does create competition between men looking for a wife, the social and economic dimensions of male singlehood cannot be ignored.

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