The Phenomenon of ‘Leftover Women’ in China’s Dating Culture

In China, there is a phenomenon known as ‘leftover women’. This derogatory term refers to unmarried women above the age of 27 in the country. The terminology used for describing single men and women over 30 starkly differs in Chinese culture. Women are referred to as ‘sheng nu’, meaning ‘leftover women’, while men are called ‘guang gun’, meaning ‘diamond bachelors’. This highlights the immense societal pressures and stigmas that Chinese women face related to marriage and relationships.

The origins of this phenomenon lie in the deep-rooted traditions and China’s infamous one-child policy, leading to severe gender imbalance in the country today. However, with globalization and women gaining education and economic independence, the dynamics of relationships and marriage are changing. Despite backlash, Chinese women continue advocating for gender equality.

Traditional Expectations and China’s One Child Policy

For centuries, Chinese culture has emphasized early marriage and childbearing for women. Sons were preferred over daughters, as they carried on the family name and were responsible for caring for parents in old age. This patriarchal tradition exerted immense pressure on women to marry young.

In 1979, China implemented the strict one-child policy to control rapid population growth. This led to sex-selective abortions and female infanticide, as families desperately wanted a son. Consequently, China now has a heavily skewed gender ratio, with around 105 males for every 100 females.

The far-reaching impact of this policy continues today, with millions of ‘leftover women’ unable to find partners despite outnumbering men. Younger brides in their 20s are preferred, leaving older unmarried women stigmatized.

The Rise of China’s Marriage Markets

With women focusing on careers and the shortage of potential partners, anxious parents have taken to marriage markets across China to advertise their unmarried daughters.

Every weekend, hundreds flock to parks with detailed resumes of their children, highlighting attributes like income, property ownership and appearance. Many daughters are completely unaware their personal information is being showcased in this manner.

The markets demonstrate the extreme societal and familial pressures to marry. They remain an important tradition, with the matchmaking industry in China estimated to be worth over $300 million annually.

Rural-Urban Migration and Women Empowerment

Another phenomenon affecting dating dynamics is female rural-urban migration. Higher wages and job prospects in cities have led millions of young Chinese women to relocate, leaving behind a shortage of brides in rural towns.

Simultaneously, globalization and economic development have enabled urban Chinese women to pursue higher education and careers. More are choosing to delay or forego marriage altogether.

About 41% of China’s GDP now comes from working women. With over 7 million unmarried females aged 25-34 living in cities, this demographic contributes vitally to the nation’s growth.

The Future of Relationships in China

Despite resistance from traditionalists, China’s marital landscape is inexorably changing with women gaining financial independence. The ‘leftover women’ stigma may persist for years due to existing gender imbalances.

However, activists continue to tirelessly advocate for women’s autonomy and equality. With the repeal of the one-child policy and ongoing rural-urban migration, the norms of early and universal marriage will likely continue eroding.

While the marriage market tradition remains deeply embedded, technology and modern matchmaking platforms are also growing in popularity and use, especially in urban areas.


The complex interplay of long-standing customs, Confucian values, and China’s family planning policies have culminated in the phenomenon of ‘leftover women’ today. However, as gender dynamics keep evolving with globalized 21st century influences, only time will tell whether this derogatory terminology will endure, or finally give way to changing relationship norms and realities for Chinese women.