The Paradox of Early Marriage Trend in China: Skewed Sex Ratio and Reshuffling Marriage Market

Yingchun Ji, Shanghai University
Hao Liu, Renmin University of China

Scholars have long been focused on how the skewed sex ratio at birth has led to marriage squeeze for rural Chinese men from a narrow economic approach. Almost no research has investigated the unexpected trend of early marriage in rural China, or even linked it to the marriage squeeze. Analyzing individual-level data from the latest Chinese census, we have found that early marriage is more closely related to marriage squeeze for rural men, than sex ratio at birth in the locality. Further, early marriage and late marriage for rural men is economically and geographically unevenly distributed. The richest provinces are not much influenced by the skewed sex ratio. Whereas, rural men in the least developed, and most remote region are at the bottom of the marriage market reshuffling, a combined marriage squeeze and early marriage passed over from the richest region across the spectrum of development and geographic location.

TheParadox of Early Marriage Trend in China: Skewed Sex Ratio and ReshufflingMarriage Market

Background andResearch Questions

Chinahas witness seriously skewed sex ratio at birth since 1980, the initiation ofone-child policy. Research have thus focused on how the skewed sex ratio has broughton marriage squeeze for men, mainly marriage delay or even forgone for the socalled surplus men in the rural area. However, rarely have scholarsinvestigated how marriage squeeze of rural men is geographically distributed. Yet,even less research has investigated the unexpected trend of early marriageamong rural men. No one has related the new trend of early marriage to the marriagesqueeze among rural men. To fill the above gaps, we ask the followingquestions. First, how is sex ratio imbalance geographically distributed inChina? Second, how is it related to delayed marriage for rural men? Third, howis delayed marriage of some rural men paradoxically related to early marriage ofother rural men? Fourth, whether and to what extent is the combination ofdelayed and early marriage associated with socioeconomic development andgeographic location? We found that, the trends towards both late and earlymarriage are passed over from the richest region, to provinces, either lessaffluent or of less favorable geographic location. The richest provinces arebuffered from marriage market fluctuation. But in the least developed, mostremote regions, rural men are at the plight of a combination of delayed andearly marriage, either not able to find a bride or anxious to marry as early aspossible.  

Data and Methods

Data are from the mostrecent China census in 2010. To follow changes of late marriage trends, wecalculate percentage of rural men who are married after the age of 25 by birthyear. To detect the recent rising trend of early marriage, we innovatively rankage at first marriage for each individual in a province from low to high. Wecalculate the oldest age of the earliest 1% who are married. For the delayedmarriage we focus on those born between 1981 and 1984, and for early marriage,we look at those born between 1981 and 1989.     


We select 12provinces with most skewed sex ratios at birth and at several age groups in2000, considering the situation of which would heavily influence marriagemarket for rural men in 2010. We divided the provinces into four groups: GroupI, the most affluent Guangdong, Zhejiang and Fujian; Group II, the lessaffluent Anhui, Hunan, and Jiangxi also bordering at least one of the mostaffluent provinces in China; Group III, the less developed, remote Shanxi andShaanxi; and Group IV, the least developed, remote Sichuan, Guangxi, Yunnan andGansu.

Resultsshow that socioeconomic development plus favorable geographic location seem tosuccessfully buffer marriage squeeze for rural men. There is not much change inmarriage timing for Group I despite the skewed sex ratios. This is likely dueto the wealth and economic opportunities of these provinces that have drawnboth young labor and marriage migrants.

All GroupII are neighboring the richest provinces. All witness a decline of 1% earlymarriage age for the youngest most recent cohort of 1986-89, although the delaypattern is not clear. Group III are remote, northwestern provinces, which showsome signs of increased late marriage, but not early marriage. Group IV are theleast developed, remote provinces in China. All provinces show a clear patternof increased proportion of late marriage and further declined early marriageage. These most disadvantaged rural men have to postpone or eventually forgomarriage facing competition from rural men in richer provinces. When observingthe marriage plight of older men, younger rural men seem to under great anxietyto enter marriage early.



Presented in Session 1233: Posters