Hudson and Den Boer argued in 2002 that the focus on limiting population growth combined with the preference for male children not only unbalanced the ratio of boys to girls, but by doing so, created the seeds of future conflict. They essentially showed that China was "missing" more than 86 million women in 2001. And the other side is also true:
Selection against female offspring produces an excess proportion of males inThus leads to the following table--focusing on men of a certain age:
society: surplus males. Given the long history of son preference in China, it is
not surprising that the Chinese have a special term for such surplus males:
guang gun-er (also transliterated as guanggun, guangguer, or guanguen), alternatively
translated as “bare sticks” or “bare branches,” indicating those male
branches of a family tree that would never bear fruit because no marriage partner
might be found for them.
Table 4. Surplus Males, Aged 15–34, China.
Year Surplus Males Source of Information
1990 14,857,587 U.S. Bureau of the Census, International Data Base
2020 29,207,874 Calculated using birth sex ratio of 111.3 for 1985–89; 118.2 for 1990–94; 115.4 for 1995–99; and 115.0 for 2000–04, with adjusted Life Table Survival Ratio (LTSR)
2020 33,059,694 Calculated as above, without adjusting LTSR
Why is this problematic? Because surplus males are not just single but have few if any romantic attachments at all (the article distinguishes between single and surplus). They become "losers" on this realm of competition, and then what?
The behavior of young surplus males also follows a broadly predictable pattern.And there is evidence to back this up, which the authors produce.. The problem with the numbers in China (and in India, and a few other Asian countries) is that the more bare branch guys there are, the more they are likely to congregate and then their behavior will tend to converge towards the worst acting guys. And there are significant political implications, as demonstrated in past episodes of so-called high sex ratio polities: authoritarianism and violence. Indeed, how do you adjust the ratio to be less out of whack? Get rid of the extra men. How do you do that? Encourage gender specific emigration? Engage in expansion and send the men out to colonize the distant territories. Develop large armed forces and then deploy them where they can be reduced through enemy fire.
Theory suggests that compared with other males in society, bare branches
will be prone to seek satisfaction through vice and violence, and will seek to
capture resources that will allow them to compete on a more equal footing
This does not bode well for China, India or their neighbors. Prosperity will not help in the short term since money will not create millions of single women for them to meet and date. I guess one could imagine the Chinese government suddenly trying to import women from around the world, but that seems unlikely. It would then, of course, create high sex ratios elsewhere.
It could be the case that these men attacking kids with knives is entirely unrelated to the growing problem of bare branches. I am pretty ignorant about China and about the implications of high sex ratios. On the other hand, not everything I have read in my career has stuck in my head so firmly as this piece.
Demography is not destiny necessarily, but we ignore demographic realities at our peril.