Just when I was thinking about the topic for my upcoming post a mail from one of the readers arrived:
The other day I was talking to a Chinese girl I work with and she introduced me to the phrase ‘shengnu’. I’m sure you know what it means. It seems that in Shanghai many girls worry about becoming a shengnu and so they desperately seek a suitable guy to get married. Most of the girls I work with are 25/26 and worry quite a bit about finding a boyfriend. One girl in particular often says to me ‘oh I can’t find a boyfriend, what can I do?’ like it’s a really terrible thing that she is single…
“Sheng nu” (剩女) can be literally translated as “rest girls” or “the girls that left out”, or shorter and harsher – “leftovers”! This term refers to girls in their late twenties and older who are yet single. Another slang used to describe them is “3S women”, meaning “single”, “seventies” (born in seventies) and “stuck”.
It’s not pleasant to be tagged as “leftovers” even if you are a nice-looking, educated and independent woman (which is often the case with these girls). So, why is it so shameful to be single in such relatively young age in China?
First, let’s have a look at some curious statistics. The marriageable age in China (the minimal age at which the Marriage Law allows people to get married) is higher than in most countries of the world, being 20 years for females and 22 for males. Together with that the average age of first marriage in China is one of the lowest in the world: 22.1 years for females and 23.8 years for males!!! It seems that young people hurry to tie the knot as soon as they become eligible to do so.
Well… average numbers take in account the whole population of China most of which reside in rural areas, while “sheng nu” mostly live in big cities like Shanghai or Beijing. They find themselves in painful conflict between older traditional values of their parents’ generation and the realities of modern world. Today’s demands for good education and high living costs in big cities require from young people to change the priorities and concentrate on their careers ahead of personal life.
But while modern Chinese society sets similarly difficult challenges for guys and girls, it’s not equal to them when the same guys and girls want to create families.
As claimed in the research “Marriage Form and Age at First Marriage: A Comparative Study in Three Counties in Contemporary Rural China”:
… education can increase women’s age at first marriage when they are educated above a certain level. For men, the effects of education on marriage age are always positive, and literate men marry earlier than illiterate ones.
…women are less likely to marry “downwards” and men are less likely to marry “upwards”. Education level also represents individual abilities, parent’s investment in children and family economy; therefore, men with higher education and women with moderate education will marry earlier.
Another “unfair” difference is rooted in preferences for marriage age. A survey found that ideal age to marry for Chinese men is above 30, and for Chinese girls is below 25!
It seems that the ambitious Chinese girls set a kind of trap for themselves. It is almost a universal law in China (and I think not only in China) that husband must be older and have a better education. Thus, paradoxically enough, upon achieving a certain level of education and financial stability Chinese girls find themselves with fewer opportunities in “marriage market”.
And it’s not only because these girls are especially picky. Due to “face” things Chinese men won’t approach them if they feel themselves inferior in some aspect.
Should it come as surprise that in spite of worrying gender imbalance (there are about 30 millions more males of marriageable age in China than females) as much as 500,000 women in Beijing alone are “leftover” ladies?
Time passes by – once clever and beautiful girls become too clever and not so beautiful “sheng nu”. It’s harder and harder to listen to parents’ nagging who dream about a happy picture of 四世同堂 (“si shi tong tang” – four generations living under one roof). One my friend – a 31 years old girl from Beijing – complains that lately she can’t say anything to her parents without hearing the same reply ”Get married!”
– Yesterday I saw an awesome movie. – Get married!
– I wonder if I should study for MBA? – Get married!
– I hate my boss, want to find another job! – Stop complaining and get married!!!
Though it seems that I will escape the fate of becoming another “sheng nu”, I gratefully realize that my parents have been more an exception than rule by never forcing me about marriage and always respecting my will.
Not a “sheng nu” yet, Crystal Tao