Institute for Global Health


Exploring the effects of high sex ratio in urban and rural China

Project Summary 

Our study is the first to investigate the experiences and expectations of those Chinese directly affected by these highly skewed sex ratios and is the most thorough empirical exploration of this subject conducted in any setting. The recent Chinese census shows that there are currently 118 male births for every 100 female, with some areas reporting ratios as high as 135 to 100. This means that by 2020 in China there will be over 20 million more men than women of marriageable age.

This alarming prediction has led the Chinese government to admit to serious concerns about the potential consequences of an excess of men for societal stability and security. Given the complexity of the issues involved we are using a multi-method approach combining analysis of existing routine data, with qualitative and quantitative methods. 

We have interviewed 250 people including opinion leaders and conducted a questionnaire survey on 7,400 men and women in reproductive age across the three provinces. 

The study is taking place in three provinces with different sex ratios: Yunnan, Guizhou and Zhejiang.

Results to date

  • Older unmarried men are aware of their limited prospects for marriage and feel a profound sense of failure in a society where marriage and reproduction are expectations.
  • The combination of the high sex ratio at birth and out-migration of women from rural areas distorts the sex ratio in adult age groups even more.
  • There is no consistent difference in reported crime rates in high and low sex ratio areas.
  • Expressed son preference is declining with most couples expressing gender indifference and more saying they want a girl than a boy.
  • Around two-thirds of our respondents are aware of the high sex ratio and have concerns about is effects on society
  • Subjective poverty is a more important determinant of psychological well being than the local sex ratio even for unmarried men

Links to other research

Other research from IGH on Women's HealthUrban HealthPopulation Health and Health Systems

Other research from IGH in China