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Changing China’s Gender Gap

April 13, 2009

There has been some recent discussion in the feminist blogosphere about a new report on China’s growing gender gap. These conversations include a healthy skepticism about the only solution named in the New York Times article: further restricting women’s reproductive rights by outlawing sex-selective abortions. Based on my experiences in China, and the conversations I had with my students there, I believe that the real solution lies, as it so often does, in increasing educational and employment opportunities for women.

Among the students in the English Department at the college where I worked, and those I met while traveling, those women who talked about wanting to have a child in the future, talked about wanting a daughter, not a son. Somewhere, through their education, they had learned to speak for themselves and to value their own gender.

No doubt it helps that they were aware of their own career possibilities. Part of the reason for the preference for boys is a belief that they will be better able to support their parents in later life. (This is only in part due to the historical practice of young brides joining their groom’s family and taking care of their mothers-in-law.) I knew one young woman who had proving to her parents that she could fulfill this requirement as well as any boy as one of her major motiviations for doing well in school and finding a decent job afterwards.

Of course, young women like her still face major obstacles in seeking employment. Many of the seniors I knew would go on drastic diets because of the way being even a little chubby could impact their odds of finding a job. The airlines that came to campus to recruit flight attendants had specific height and weight requirements: most of my students were too short.

In the end, the answer isn’t to restrict women but, rather, to support them. And to trust them.

  1. Emily permalink*
    April 13, 2009 9:00 pm

    This is interesting! In India, there is a similar gender gap (about 40% women, 60% men). What will happen in the future—do you think the gap will increase?

  2. April 14, 2009 2:07 pm

    In China, it was pretty clear to me that attitudes were changing, so I would expect to see the gap shrink within the next generation or two.


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