Bare branches, gold diggers, and ants

Carolyn Moynihan
24 Jun 2010
Reproduced with Permission

China's bachelor problem is about to get worse, thanks to women raising the material stakes, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Women are collectively disadvantaged at birth: because of the one-child policy and son preference more girls are aborted. But there is a growing surplus of men in competition for wives, and women, it now appears, are using their bargaining power to find the wealthiest suitors.

Among urbanites, anyway, prospective husbands must own an apartment -- and preferably a good set of wheels as well. Yet China's private wealth revolution has driven up home prices beyond the reach of young men. A typical 1000-foot, two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in Beijing now costs about US$274,000 -- 22 times the annual average income of the city's average resident.

Unlike in the United States, where home buying traditionally takes place after marriage, owning a place in China has recently become a prerequisite for tying the knot. Experts said securing an apartment in this market signals that a man is successful, family-oriented and able to weather challenging financial circumstances. Put succinctly, homeownership has become the ultimate symbol of virility in today's China.

"A man is not a man if he doesn't own a house," said Chen Xiaomin, director of the Women's Studies Center at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law. "Marriage is becoming more and more materialistic. This is a huge change in Chinese society. No matter how confident a woman is, she will lose face if her boyfriend or husband doesn't have a house."

On dating websites some women even specify the age of the apartment and the standard of car they expect.

In a survey last year on, a popular Web portal similar to Yahoo, 73% of respondents said homeownership was a necessity for marriage. An almost equal percentage said they had difficulty buying an apartment.

We have heard about "bare branches", China's unmarriageable men; now comes a new female archetype, the bai jin nu, or gold-digger. "I would rather cry in a BMW than smile on the back of my boyfriend's bicycle," says Ma Nuo, the popular face of the type.

Meanwhile, a 28-year-old language tutor and interpreter whose girlfriend dropped him when he took too long to find the $30,000 down payment on a $150,000 home, says:

"People's values have changed," he said. "It doesn't matter if you're a nice guy or you're fun or good natured or have a sense of humor. They don't care. All they care about is a house."

What a pity, if all China has to offer post-Maoist youth in the way of ideals is a scramble for wealth.

Another story this week indicates that higher education is not necessarily an advantage in the pursuit of wealth and wife (or husband). Newsweek reports on "a fast-growing white-collar underclass" of unemployed or under-employed college graduates. They are known as "ants" because of "their willingness to work, their dirt-poor living conditions, and the seeming futility of their efforts."