Risks & Trends

'Sex and the Chinese Economy'

Shang-Jin Wei

Professor, Columbia University & former Chief Economist, Asian Development Bank

'Sex and the Chinese Economy'
'Sex and the Chinese Economy'
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China's demographic challenges

5

May 27, 2021
BIG IDEA | ‘A rise in China’s male-female ratio may have contributed to between one-third and one-half of the increase in its trade surplus with other countries.’
‘The sex imbalance thus likely underpins an important source of tension between China and the US. Yet bilateral engagement has paid scant attention to this linkage.’

‘China’s recently released population census confirms the persistence of the country’s alarming excess of males relative to the global norm.’

  • ‘The sex ratio at birth ratio 111.3 boys for every 100 girls.’
  • ‘This is a decline from a peak of about 121 boys per 100 girls in 2009.’

‘Although China’s male-to-female ratio at birth was close to this natural rate in the 1970s, a combination of factors fueled its steady rise.’

  • ‘The most significant were a preference for sons, the availability of ultrasound and other technologies that enable expectant parents to know a fetus’s sex, and the government’s imposition in 1980 of a strict family-planning policy that prevented most families from having as many children as they desire.’
  • ‘Some parents have opted for sex-selective abortions. The government tried to forbid the practice, but it is hard to prevent as long as abortions are used as a means of complying with birth limits.’
  • ‘The ratio is significantly higher than it would be in the absence of sex-selective abortions.’

‘China’s “excess” of male births results in a large number of young men being unable to marry.’

  • ‘To enhance their relative competitiveness in the dating and marriage markets, young men – and especially parents with unmarried sons – increase their savings rates substantially.’
  • ‘In a 2011 paper, Xiaobo Zhang and I found that the rise in the male-female ratio in China’s pre-marital-age cohort from 1990 to 2007 accounted for about half of the increase in the household savings rate during that period.’

‘An increase in the savings rate tends to boost a country’s trade surplus.’

  • ‘In 2013, Qingyuan Du and I showed that a rise in China’s male-female ratio may have contributed to between one-third and one-half of the increase in its trade surplus with other countries.’

‘The sex imbalance thus likely underpins an important source of tension between China and the US.’

  • ‘Yet bilateral engagement has paid scant attention to this linkage.’

‘A more balanced sex ratio will lessen the need for many Chinese households to sacrifice current consumption for higher savings, and foster safer working environments.’

  • ‘It would also help to reduce trade tensions with other countries.’

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