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Jay Currie

One Damn Thing After Another

10/08/2004

A Demographic Note

In a brilliant piece published in Policy Review in February, Nicolas Eberstadt makes a survery of Asian population trends. There is enough there on the different effects of the aging of Japanese and Chinese society, the Russian demographic collapse and the effect of modernity on birthrates to make a dozen blog entries; but the piece which struck me was,
The most dramatic departure from historic biological norms seems to have occurred in the People's Republic of China. In China's 1953 and 1964 censuses, unexceptional infant sex ratios (104 to 105 for babies under 1 year of age) were reported. In the 1982 census, however, a sex ratio of almost 108 was recorded - and subsequently it became clear that this apparent anomaly was not a temporary aberration. In the subsequent national population counts, China's reported sex ratio at birth rose inexorably - to almost 112 in 1990, then nearly 116 in 1995, and most recently to just under 118 in the November 2000 census.
policy review
What this means is that there are dramatically more boys being born in China than girls. Twenty years down the line this will mean that between ten and twenty percent of the male Chinese population will not be able to find a girl to marry.

The "Missing Girl" issue has been batted around for years, ever since the early 1980s when the trend first was identified. A good deal of ink has been spilt wondering what, if any, implications a floating population of around 50 million men would have for peace. Eberstadt discounts the idea that the surplus of men will lead to a "more martial" Chinese society. Instead he suggests there is likely to be an increase in social tension within China.

I hope he is right.

I am also inclined to think that the gender imbalance is going to set off a significant drive to emigrate from the PRC. For centuries men, faced with barren prospects at home, have set off to new places to, as the expression goes, make their fortune. As the populations of Japan and Europe grow older there will be an increasing need for "replacement workers" (aka tax serfs) to keep the wrinklies in the style to which they have become accustomed.

Currently, in Europe at least, the principle source for new immigrants is North Africa and the Middle East. Which, of course, leads to the difficulties many European nations are experiencing with their Muslim populations. A shift in immigration policy in many EU countries is more or less a matter of time. But the need for immigrants will not vanish.

Which may, in the end, mean a significant influx of single Chinese men.