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Social Change Creates New "Singles Economy" in China

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As social mores evolve in China, a new "singles economy" has emerged with "an increasing number of women today ... actively choosing to live the single life," according to research fellow Chen Yaya of the Academy of Social Sciences in Shanghai.

Chen says this is the fourth "singles wave" China has experienced in the past 60-odd years. Hou Weili, of Chinafrica magazine, explains:

China's first three phases of singledom began in the 1950s (as a result of the promulgation of China's first Marriage Law), followed by the 1970s, when many educated youths, who were sent to countryside for re-education during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), divorced their village wives/husbands when they returned to their urban homes. Lastly in the 1990s changes in traditional values brought about by the reform and opening up policy made many people choose to stay single.

This is quite a shift from "singles waves" past. From GCP News:

The most interesting element of this new "singles" wave, and the focus of Chen Yaya's research, is that it is different from the previous waves and is predominantly led by women: "If we say that the previous "singles" waves were due to objective situational changes (influencing personal decisions), and that they were only a short-term behavioral trend, then this time, the fourth "singles" wave is better characterised as people choosing to be single of their own initiative." Surveys show that single urban dwelling women are now increasingly "choosing" the single life. In 2005, of 30-50 year old singles in Beijing, 60% were women; in Shanghai it was 82%. In 2007, a Shanghai survey showed that the number of single women is increasing faster than the number of single men, and the closer to one gets to the city center, the larger these numbers get.

"One of the results of the previous women's rights promotions, was that single women started rethinking the role of the woman in traditional Chinese marriage." Single women are more free to express their feelings and opinions as compared to women in a traditional marriage role. Chen Yaya frequently asked women, "Now that you are married are you still as happy as you were before?" they all responded with silence. She added, "...afterwards I thought, [to these women] human life is short, bitter. Clear and simple…freedom from this is great, you don't have the pressures of the wife and mother."

Chinafrica's Hou explains that today's singles "are known as 'sheng nu,' literally translated as 'leftover women,' most of who are well-educated, well-paid and independent city dwellers." But, independent as they may be, a 2010 piece in China Daily, which refers to the sheng nu as "3S ladies," paints a bleaker picture of the single life:

The prospect of being categorized as a "3S lady" haunts female university graduates in Shanghai, a recent survey shows.

A "3S lady", which is defined as someone who is single, (born in the) 70s and stuck, is used to refer to an independent and educated woman around the expected age of marriage who is still single.

According to a survey carried out earlier this month by the journalism school at Fudan University among more than 900 female university graduates from 17 universities, over 70 percent of the respondents are afraid of becoming "3S ladies".

They believe that the failure of the "3S ladies" to find a partner is either due to their limited social network or their strong personality, or because they are too busy to date or are more capable than their male counterparts..

While young Chinese may be postponing marriage, they still face tremendous pressure to get hitched from their parents -- who have taken to Shanghai's People's Park to rectify the situation.

From Toby Skinner of Satellite Voices:

One sign reads: "Daughter. Born 1983, 1.67m tall. Shanghai University graduate with level 8 English qualification. Proper appearance, senior executive in a foreign company with an income of 6,000RMB/month. Looking for: A post-’80s male around 1.8m tall, with a stable job. University graduate with his own marital home, a responsible attitude toward work and a loving attitude toward family."

This is, in itself, a burgeoning market sector of its own. When NPR's Kai Rysdaal visited in June, he wrote:

Often the mother or father is standing nearby, ready to answer questions. Parents of prospective mates make the rounds, checking out the competition, trying to judge the market. Because there are, after all, buyers and sellers -- those with children on offer and those who're looking -- although no money changes hands. All that's exchanged, if there's interest on both sides, is a phone number. For a dinner date, maybe. And if things go well, who knows...

Of today's independent worldview by Chinese women, one Shanghai single says, "I never believe women are inferior to men. I can do everything men do, even better."

Wang Lin, a single Shanghainese male, doesn't disagree -- though the shifting roles still present a sticking point for the 30 year-old:

"I don't want to marry a girl who is better than me as my pride will be hurt in the relationship."
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