China land and bachelors

Paul H. Rubin —  16 April 2011

The New York Times has an interesting story about land markets in China.  In order to get married a man needs to own property and land prices are very high in China.  As it its habit, the Times blames “overeager developers who force residents out of old neighborhoods.”

In fact, the Times gets it backwards.  The information needed to understand the issue is in the story: “The marriage competition is fierce, and statistically, women hold the cards. Given the nation’s gender imbalance, an outgrowth of a cultural preference for boys and China’s stringent family-planning policies, as many as 24 million men could be perpetual bachelors by 2020, according to the report.”  So what is happening is that there is a shortage of marriageable women and it is competition for the land needed to attract these women that is driving up land prices.

This competition is one unfortunate side effect of the one child policy and the Chinese preference for boys.  These 24 million unmarriageable men are going to be a long term problem for China.  In my book Darwinian Politics I argue that a large core of perpetual bachelors makes a free and open society difficult because this core will lead to social instability; the argument is also forcefully made in Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population by  Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. Den Boer. 

Much has been written about the problem of China’s aging population but I don’t think we have paid enough attention to the issues of gender imbalance.  More generally, I think much of the course of world politics over the next century is going to be driven by major demographic trends, and I think these worthy of increased study.  Nicholas Eberstadt of AEI is doing this sort of work, but I think there is much more to be done.

Paul H. Rubin

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PAUL H. RUBIN is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Economics at Emory University in Atlanta and formerly editor in chief of Managerial and Decision Economics. He blogs at Truth on the Market. He was President of the Southern Economic Association in 2013. He is a Fellow of the Public Choice Society and is associated with the Technology Policy Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Independent Institute. Dr. Rubin has been a Senior Economist at President Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers, Chief Economist at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Director of Advertising Economics at the Federal Trade Commission, and vice-president of Glassman-Oliver Economic Consultants, Inc., a litigation consulting firm in Washington. He has taught economics at the University of Georgia, City University of New York, VPI, and George Washington University Law School. Dr. Rubin has written or edited eleven books, and published over two hundred and fifty articles and chapters on economics, law, regulation, and evolution in journals including the American Economic Review, Journal of Political Economy, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Journal of Legal Studies, and the Journal of Law and Economics, and he frequently contributes to the Wall Street Journal and other leading newspapers. His work has been cited in the professional literature over 8000 times. Books include Managing Business Transactions, Free Press, 1990, Tort Reform by Contract, AEI, 1993, Privacy and the Commercial Use of Personal Information, Kluwer, 2001, (with Thomas Lenard), Darwinian Politics: The Evolutionary Origin of Freedom, Rutgers University Press, 2002, and Economics, Law and Individual Rights, Routledge, 2008 (edited, with Hugo Mialon). He has consulted widely on litigation related matters and has been an adviser to the Congressional Budget Office on tort reform. He has addressed numerous business, professional, policy, government and academic audiences. Dr. Rubin received his B.A. from the University of Cincinnati in 1963 and his Ph.D. from Purdue University in 1970.

2 responses to China land and bachelors

  1. 
    Walter Sobchak 18 April 2011 at 9:55 pm

    An easy win win solution. Have the surplus chineese men invade Pakistan and Afghanistan, kill the men and take the women.

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