Will China’s gender imbalance lead to war?

Sinophiles will want to read this book review on the history behind China’s (and to some extent India’s) ever-widening gender gap, and why one of the writers actually thinks the problem could lead to war.

In a new book, Bare Branches: Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population (MIT Press), Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. den Boer warn that the spread of sex selection is giving rise to a generation of restless young men who will not find mates. History, biology, and sociology all suggest that these “surplus males” will generate high levels of crime and social disorder, the authors say. Even worse, they continue, is the possibility that the governments of India and China will build up huge armies in order to provide a safety valve for the young men’s aggressive energies.

“In 2020 it may seem to China that it would be worth it to have a very bloody battle in which a lot of their young men could die in some glorious cause,” says Ms. Hudson, a professor of political science at Brigham Young University.

It presents differing viewpoints on how China’s going to deal with so many “surplus males,” but it’s obvious that for now, no one really knows.

Related post: It’s raining men in China

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 3 Comments

Nothing in the two women’s arguments, however, persuades Joshua S. Goldstein, a professor emeritus of international relations at George Washington University, who wrote War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa (Cambridge University Press, 2001). “The problem with their design is that they’re basically just picking cases that fit their hypothesis, and so you don’t know whether it’s generalizable or not,” he says. Mr. Goldstein would prefer a much more systematic study, one that would try to identify how sex ratios interact with other variables that are believed to be linked to instability and war: rapid population growth, ethnic tension, poverty, and unstable availability of resources.

If what he says about their methodology is true, then this is pretty bogus social science.

I find the “I don’t know what to do with all these single men so let’s put them in an army and send them to their death” scenario to be a lot less plausible than a “The only thing holding this country together is a proto-fascist belief in ‘uniting the motherland’ so let’s send a bunch of men to their death” scenario.

April 30, 2004 @ 6:27 pm | Comment

Good points, and I think their argument is pretty poorly presented as well. Interesting, but not very likely.

April 30, 2004 @ 8:10 pm | Comment

posted from Beijing

Historically, war has been the answer to gender imbalance. In Portugal, six centuries ago the king instigated a crusade against Muslims in North Africa to divert bare-branch bands who’d taken to piracy and robbery at home.

We discussed this 2020 gender imbalance time-bomb in all of my classes. The students came up with many solutions from sex change operations to war–but the smartest one came from a girl who had a brilliant capitalist/socialist idea: A world wide marriage agency coupled with a tax on marriage that would establish a fund to help the stranded young men find wives.

Other young women espoused an education campaign to combat the cultural preferences for male children. One suggested changing a tradition and having a married couple taking the family name of the bride.

There is actually a law in China forbidding a doctor from revealing the sex of an unborn child but….

May 2, 2004 @ 8:42 am | Comment

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