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Deficit (or Excess) in the Number of Females Age 18-23 in China, Europe, USA and India: 1950-2049 (in 1000)

Source: World Population Prospects, the 2008 Revision. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), Population Division, New York. See:
Note: Europe (48) see Glossary

This chart depicts the number of females minus the number of males - in other words: the excess or deficit of females as compared to males at age 18 to 23.

Since the 1950s both India and China have a significant deficit of females at the main marriage age of 18 to 23. However, this female deficit at main marriage age will increase considerably in China during the next few years. By 2025 China will have a deficit of females over males in the order of more than 10 million per year. This will cause a massive "marriage squeeze", because millions of Chinese men will have no chance of finding a bride and start a family.

The marriage squeeze in China with its projected peak in 2025 is an "echo effect" of the massive fertility decline that China experienced during the past few decades. This fertility decline was partly achieved by sex-selective abortions, as the strict "One-Child Only" family planning policy apparently motivated many women to have an abortion if their first child was expected to be a girl. While China's serious sex-imbalance at birth may be partly due to underreporting of female births, it is highly unlikely that the already observed deficit of young females at age groups 18 to 23 is a statistical artifact. More detailed demographic research is certainly necessary, but there seems to be sufficient demographic evidence to expect serious imbalances between men and women at typical marriage ages in China. These problems are already felt in the Chinese society and are widely discussed in popular magazines and TV shows.

A slight excess of females over males at age 18 to 23 was only estimated for Europe in the early 1950s and for the United States of America in the 1950s and the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Distorted sex ratios at birth and a subsequent imbalance in the number of men and women at main marriage age are not restricted to Asian societies with a strong "male preference". Many traditional, rural societies in all parts of the world have in the past experienced a similar situation. In peasant societies boys are often preferred to girls because they can better help with physically hard work in the fields and because they provide a social security net for old age, while the girls often marry away. The number of sons is therefore typically considered equivalent to the strength of a family.

Traditional societies have developed various institutions and arrangements to cope with excess males who were unable to find women for marriage and reproduction. These societies often have a large number of monks or priests who remain unmarried for life and are separated from the main society in monasteries. In the traditional societies of Europe many young men remained single and lived as laborers in a farmer's household or served an aristocratic family. Also, the excess of young men in traditional societies provided the rulers with soldiers and fueled civil wars. As a modernizing society with strong traditional ties among the still predominantly rural population China will have to find new ways of how to deal with the marriage squeeze.


Anderson, Barbara A. / Silver, Brian D. (1995): Ethnic differences in fertility and sex ratios at birth in China: Evidence from Xinjiang. In: Population Studies, Vol. 49, No. 2, 211-226

Cai, Yong / Lavely, William (2003): China's missing girls: Numerical estimates and effects on population growth. In: China Review, Vol. 3, No. 2, 13-29

Chu, Junhong (2001): Prenatal sex determination and sex-selective abortion in rural central China. In: Population and Development Review, Vol. 27, No. 2, 259-282

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Das Gupta, Monica (2005): Explaining Asia's "missing women": A new look at the data. In: Population and Development Review, Vol. 31, No. 3, 529-535

Das Gupta, Monica / Lee, Shuzhuo (1997): Gender bias and the "marriage squeeze" in China, South Korea and India, 1920-1990: The effects of war, famine, and fertility decline. Cambridge, MA (Center for Population and Development Studies, Harvard University), Working Paper Series, No. 97.05

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Ren, Steve (1995): Sex Differences in Infant and Child Mortality in Three Provinces in China. In: Social Sciences and Medicine, Vol. 40, No. 9, 1259-1269

White, Tyrene (2000): Domination, Resistance, and Accommodation in China's One Child Campaign. In: Perry, Elizabeth J. / Selden, Mark (Eds.): Chinese Society: Change, Conflict, and Resistance. New York, NY (Routledge)

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This data section was updated on 18 December 2011

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Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved. - 18 April 2012