After India (106.4 men for 100 women in 2011), China has currently the highest overall sex ratio in the world, at 104.9 in 2010, whereas the world average (excluding China and India) is 98.5 in 2010.

Because of its scale and lasting impact, China’s adverse sex ratio and the resulting shortage of women is an unprecedented demographic situation in the documented history of human populations, and is expected to have significant repercussions on the population size and structure in the 21st century.

The shortage of women in the marriage market is due in part to the numerical discrepancy between successive cohorts. When the number of births drops sharply over the years, as it did in China from the 1970s, cohorts of boys are more numerous than those of the girls they will marry once they reach marriageable age, given the age gap between spouses. Consequently, more men arrive on the marriage market as compared to the number of women a few years younger than them.

It is also (and will continue to be in the next decades) significantly accentuated by the growing imbalance in the sex ratio at young ages due to considerable discriminations against girls before and after birth observed from the 1980s (sex selective abortion, neglect in caring for daughters leading to premature death), these discriminations being the result of a strong preference for sons in a context of strict limitation of births.

The consequences of the shortage of women on the demographics are well identified and documented. The most immediate one is a male marriage-squeeze due to a shortage of potential spouses on the marriage market (namely, a reduced availability of female partners) which is expected to result in a corresponding increase in the number of men who will remain unmarried against their will.This shortage may also result in an increase in the age gap between spouses, and an increase in marriage migration.
In the longer term, if fertility remains stable, the shortage of women, and therefore of mothers, will lead to a fall in the birth rate and consequently a slowdown in demographic growth.

Unlike the demographic impact, the transformations of individual practices and behaviour brought about by a reduced availability of female partners on the marriage and sexuality markets, the strategies and individual issues resulting from it and their impact on society, living conditions, sexual behaviours, and gender roles are largely unexplored. However, it will be necessary for people, both men and women, to adapt to this new social and demographic concern.

To understand how discriminations against women and inequalities in gender roles persist and even spread in the specific context of a reduced availability of female partners, DefiChine focuses on men’s perceptions and behaviour.