This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Sex Imbalances and the Housing Market in China

Thanks to Shoshana Grossbard for pointing me to an article talking about how the "search for love" has helped to fuel China's housing bubble. The article refers to the underlying problem which is, as Shoshana has written about for a long time, the unbalanced sex ratio in China. The strong son preference in China (as in all of East Asia), combined with the one-child policy that has encouraged sex-selective abortion, has pushed up the "bride price" in China.
If you want to marry an attractive Shanghainese girl, the myth goes, you are expected to first own a nice apartment, preferably within the city’s inner ring road and with little or no debt. Otherwise, she’ll dump you.

Indeed, a new survey revealed that the majority of Chinese women believe the man should buy a house before getting married. More than 60% of female respondents polled in ten major Chinese cities wanted a house before marriage, the Sharpen Research Institute and Guangzhou Youth Weekly survey showed. One-fifth of the women went even further and said a house was an essential requirement before saying “I do.”

Consequently, it is widely understood that the groom will already have – or be prepared to buy – a house when he is getting married, said Brian Jackson, senior China economist at IHS Economics. He added that a man’s “potential bargaining power in the local marriage market” is further eroded by the country’s large sex imbalance.

In fact, if a man takes up a wife without first offering her a house, it is referred to as a “naked marriage.” A 2013 online survey showed that about 80% of men supported the idea of naked marriages – 70% of women did not.
Thus, the "demographic dividend," which received a lot of attention at the recent Population Association of America meetings, has its downside as well as the upsides, especially when you factor in cultural variations such as gender equality. In China, we have the paradoxical situation in which women, who are culturally less valued than men, are in a superior bargaining position for marriage precisely because of the consequences of gender inequality. Many would call that justice. 

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