Cultural Expectations, Market Mismatch and Individual Choices: The Making of “Shengnu” in China

Felicia Feng Tian, Duke University

“Shengnu” is a new social and culture phenomenon in China. Literally meaning “leftover woman”, it is a snazzy and demeaning word to describe unmarried women at age 28 or 30. How did a country that was characteristic for universal female marriage and known to have a huge army of surplus-man produces a group of un-marriageable women? This paper argues that the conflict of two competing cultural expectations of hypergamy: female age hypergamy and female status hypergamy creates a marriage market mismatch that puts females with highly educated women at a disadvantage place. Using the 2005 mini census data, we examine the emergence of “Shengnu” phenomenon in China over the last two decades. We decompose the observed decline in marriage rates to study the contribution of marriage market mismatch, and compare with what has observed in the United States and Japan. We further examine individual’s coping strategy facing the market squeeze.

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Presented in Poster Session 5