The shortage of women caused by China’s one-child policy, combined with the country’s economic boom over the last two decades have made marriage a grim prospect for poor men in rural regions. These two factors have bumped up the “bride price” to hundreds of thousands of yuan, sometimes even millions, obscene amounts that most men can’t hope of raising without taking a bank loan.
The bride price is a a centuries-old Chinese tradition that survived and even thrived in the Communist era. It’s similar to the Western tradition of dowry, only it requires a prospective groom to pay the family of the bride for permission to marry her. In the 60’s and 70’s, the bride price was paid in modest gifts ranging from a simple thermos to bedding. During the 80’s television sets and refrigerators were popular gifts offered as bride prices, but since the economy started to grow in the 1990’s, the payment switched to hard cash and the sums demanded by the family of the bride have been rising ever since.
But perhaps the best explanation for the ever-increasing bride price is the gender inequality in China. During the days of the one-child policy, the preference for males strong enough to work and later look after their elderly parents led to a huge increase in sex-selective abortion and even infanticide of female babies. As a result, Harvard researchers claim that today there are 118 men for every 100 women in China, and the proportion is actually worse in poor rural regions.