Monday, January 18, 2010

Polyandry: The Obvious Solution to China's Sex-Ratio Imbalance

In a recent report from Chinese state media, it was announced that 24 million "surplus" Chinese men of marriageable age will likely have trouble finding wives by 2020. The study specifically blamed sex-specific abortion as a major culprit. The study identified this gender imbalance as China's most serious demographic problem.

"Sex-specific abortions remained extremely commonplace, especially in rural areas," where the cultural preference for boys over girls is strongest, the study said,

Researcher Wang Guangzhou indicated that the skewed birth ratio could lead to difficulties in finding a spouse especially for lower income men and that it was likely there would be a widening age gap between spouses. Such low income men would face a scenario of marrying later in life or not finding a wife at all.

"The chance of getting married will be rare if a man is more than 40 years old in the countryside. They will be more dependent on social security as they age and have fewer household resources to rely on," Researcher Wang Yuesheng said.

Another contributing factor to this phenomenon is the country's family planning policies, which limits most couples, with a few exceptions, to only one child. An inadequate social security system also contributes to the already strong cultural preference for male children, as it is believed that men would better be able to financially care for parents in their later years.

The report also stated that the incidence of abductions and trafficking women are becoming serious problems in areas with the highest humbers of excess men.

In normal circumstances in China, there is a slight imbalance in the sex ratio, with about 105 to 107 males born to every 100 females. In 2005, the ratio had widened to 119 males to 100 females, with some areas as high as 130 males to 100 females.

The study recommended that the government relax the one child policy and to encourage "cross-country" marriages.

While I agree that these steps will help the generation after the one currently coming into adulthood, it doesn't help those who will be coming of age within the next ten to fifteen years. A more immediate solution is needed to help these men now.

It's an obvious solution, but it occurs to few people because it violates one of the biggest societal sacred cows.

In a word, the obvious solution is polyandry, which is a form of polygamy that allows one woman to have multiple husbands. If China allowed legal polyandry to exist alongside monogamy, then none of the projected 24 million surplus males would have to remain unwillingly single.

Many people both in Western countries and in China would object to this solution for "moral" reasons. But is this a valid reason?

Looked at objectively, monogamy is no more inherently moral than either form of polygamy. Instead, these three types of marriage are at their base, simply different types of reproductive strategies, each suited for different societal needs..

Polygyny, one man with multiple wives, has often occurred throughout history where population growth was desired and/or needed, such as in agricultural societies where many hands were needed to do the necessary work, and where women outnumbered men.

This is because polygyny is a much more efficient system than monogamy if the goal is to produce large amounts of children. One woman can produce only so many children regardless of the form her marriage takes, but one man can easily sire hundreds of children with multiple women.

Polyandry, one woman with multiple husbands, is suited well for societies where population growth needs to be halted and where men outnumber women. Polyandry limits population growth, as several men are sharing the limited reproductive capacities of one woman. Thus, polyandry is a reproductive strategy that would be ideally suited for today's China, as China both desires to curb its rampant overpopulation and to give its 24 million surplus males a chance of marrying that would not be possible in a monogamy-only society.

But I doubt China will seriously consider this practical solution, even as a short term strategy, because that is the nature of sacred cows, People tend to cling to them, even when doing so is impractical and is maladaptive for a society's current needs.

Thoughts?

31 comments:

rhoover1%kent.edu said...

I think informal polyandry will simply happen. Women are smart enough to realize that two men will be better able to support them financially than one man and they will simply have two "friends with benefits." When she has a kid she will probably marry the father, but still keeps seeing the other guy.

Fernweher said...

your suggestions for the benefits of polyandry are economical and environmental, not moral. The biggest block of polyandry is the moral principle that a woman should be devoted to one man who then "owns" her via marriage. This is why women generally get so much shame in the East for sex outside of marriage but men do not. Therefore, though polyandry would be much better for population levels in China, and keep men from being unwed, these men would have to give up their entitlement to "own" a female in marriage. I also think that if they instituted this policy, they should allow each man in the marriage to have one child, rather than saying only one child total between three people.
I would like to see it happen as well, but I think men would rather cause suffering on a large scale than give up their privilege over women.

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