China's guy problems only getting worse

Thanks to sex selection, there are 32 million more males than females in the country.

Published April 11, 2009 9:30AM (EDT)

Try to envision the total population of California. Now, imagine that those many millions of citizens are all men. Got a solid image in your head of this colossal boys' club? Well, that's close to how many more millions of males than females there are in China. In 2005, the country had an excess of 32 million males under the age of 20, according to a report released Friday. In fact, in that year alone, 1.1 million more boys than girls were born.

That won't come as a shock to regular Broadsheet readers. We've been writing about China's glut of guys for some time now, and the common wisdom has always been that it's only getting worse. The gender gap is largely attributed to sex-selective abortion, a result of China's one-child policy and a cultural preference for boys. Despite a crackdown on these illegal abortions, improved inheritance laws, and an official "care for girls" campaign, the report concludes: "Nothing can be done now to prevent this imminent generation of excess men." In fact, the largest imbalance was found among those age 1 to 4, in which boys outnumbered girls 124 to 100.

And, per the usual, experts warn that the inevitable overabundance of lonely bachelors will lead to total chaos -- because dudes won't be able to get a date. "If you've got highly sexed young men, there is a concern that they will all get together and, with high levels of testosterone, there may be a real risk that they will go out and commit crimes," Therese Hesketh of the Centre for International Health and Development at University College London told the Associated Press. What kinds of crimes she's referring to is unclear -- but the suggestion seems to be that they will be sexual. Something to look forward to, women of China: A gang of 32 million male sexual criminals.

I've always held on to an irrational hope that a dearth of girls might actually improve women's status in China. But the case of South Korea, which is also coping with an astronomical gender imbalance, tells a different story: Men simply outsource, importing brides from other countries.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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