The institution of marriage is deeply rooted in the cultures of India and China, it has been an essential part of the social fabric of both countries for centuries. China and India are now facing a disruptive societal issue, there are too many men chasing too few prospective brides.
The marriage constriction problem has been over a generation in the making. Sex-selective abortions became common in China in the 1990s as a result of the government’s one child per couple policy plus the population’s traditional preference for sons. A few years later, the same type of abortions became common in India due to the long-standing desire for sons and the availability of prenatal tests to determine sex. After years of sex-selective abortions in favor of boys, a large imbalance in the male-female ratio has developed in China and India. In some parts of India, the sex ratio is 114 males to 100 females. China’s ratio is around 116 males to 100 females. These are well above the natural rate of 105 to 100.
India and China have a combined population in the range of 2.6 billion, accounting for one-third of the world’s population. The sex ratio problem is going to be around for decades, probably getting worse before it gets better. China is now estimated to be short 66 million girls, India by 43 million. In China, for every 100 single women able to marry in the years 2050-54, there could be as many as 186 single men. In India, where the problem is expected to peak during the years 2060-64, there will be 191 men for each 100 women. Never before in the long history of India and China has there been such an oversupply of men.
The looming shortage of women makes social analysts uneasy. In societies around the world, large numbers of unattached young men tend to equate with higher levels of crime and violence. Young males are known to have a predisposition toward risky behavior. Worldwide, males commit the vast majority of homicides, they are also more likely to be murder victims. There are fears that the abduction of women for sale as brides will become more common. The imbalance is also fueling an increased demand for prostitution. A study using 1988-2004 Chinese data found that a one-point rise in the sex ratio corresponded with a seven-point increase the rates of violent crime and theft.
China has eased its one-child policy and the country’s sex ratio at birth has fallen. Even with the male-female ratio returning to normal, the imbalance problem will linger for years due to the lasting impact of sex-selective abortions. The complexities of the issue are seeping into public consciousness, already causing change. Some of the unofficial ancient bans on inter-caste marriages are being relaxed in India. Chinese newspapers have run articles on the top foreign counties to visit in order to meet eligible brides.
India and China will continue to change as they become more affluent and their populations better educated. The marriage problem that is now beginning to emerge is expected to have widespread effects on both societies. Although the outcome is yet undetermined, universal marriage as currently practiced in both countries could become a thing of the past. Because the problem will grow in the coming years, some observers think there could be an inflow of foreign women. This would shift part of the current female shortage in China and India to other lands. How that issue will play out in future international politics remains wide open to conjecture.