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Gender imbalance affects savings rate

  In 1990, Indian-born economist Amartya Sen published a sensational article – “More Than 100Million Women Are Missing” (More than 100 million women are missing). At the time, he had not yet won the Nobel Prize, but the article caused a huge reaction. The concept of “disappearing women” became an oft-discussed concept.

  Amartya Sen’s way of thinking is very straightforward. The sex ratio of newborns is roughly the same worldwide, regardless of country or ethnic group, at about 104 males for every 100 females. It appears that the male ratio is slightly higher, but the survival rate of female babies is higher than that of male babies because they are more likely to miscarry and to contract fatal diseases after birth. And after birth, females live longer than males, on average, under the same living conditions and level of medical care.

  Therefore, when counting the sex ratio of newborns, there are slightly more males than females; when counting adults, the sex ratio is roughly balanced; and when counting the elderly, females significantly outnumber males. In most countries in the world, the total female population exceeds that of males. For example, in Europe, North America and Japan, the total number of women is more than men, and the ratio of women to men is about 1.05:1. However, there are a few regions in the world that are exceptions, namely China, India and West Asia. In these countries and regions, there are more men than women, and the ratio of women to men can be as low as 0.94:1, or even lower.

  China used to not pay much attention to this problem. But in recent years, the problem has become more prominent. In 2015, China’s total population was 1.37 billion, of which 700 million were men and 670 million were women, a difference of more than 30 million between men and women. In 2019, the most imbalanced sex ratios in China are between the ages of 10-14 and 15-19, with a sex ratio of 100:119 and 100:118 respectively, almost 1 girl for 1.2 boys. . This figure is a serious deviation from the natural birth rate of 100:104 and must contain serious human intervention.

  Amartya Sen questioned that year when he observed the special situation in Asia. According to estimates of sex ratios in the United States and Europe, at least 100 million women in Asia have “disappeared” (missing). Of course this disappearance needs to be put in quotation marks, it is not really disappeared. Rather, it could be selective abortion, which means that a significant number of female babies are not born at all; or it could be that the girls who are born are not well cared for, making them more susceptible to illness and death. Amartya Sen pointed out that there is serious gender discrimination in traditional East Asian cultures. More girls have been killed in this world over the past 50 years than men died in all the wars of the entire 20th century. In Asia alone, 100 million women have “disappeared” simply because of their gender.

  The gender imbalance is a serious social problem that also has many economic consequences. In a famous article published in the Journal of Political Economy, Columbia University professor Shang-Jin Wei and Peking University professor Xiaobo Zhang argued that China’s high economic growth over the past few decades is related to the gender imbalance.

  As can be observed from the data, China’s savings rate and gender ratio have been growing in tandem since 1980. in 1990, China’s savings rate was just 16%, while by 2007, the savings rate of Chinese residents reached 30%. This is a staggering level of savings; the U.S. savings rate has never exceeded 10%, and at its lowest it was only 2.2%. And the gender imbalance in China is steadily increasing. Because of China’s inherent traditional belief that boys are naturally given more preference, some families are having an impact on China’s sex ratio through selective abortions that result in more boys being born.

  Since the 1980s, the male-to-female sex ratio has continued to rise, and the phenomenon of having more men than women has become increasingly serious. An inevitable consequence of the phenomenon of more men and fewer women is that the marriage market becomes more competitive for men and more competitive for women. If men want to gain an advantage in the marriage market, they must have certain material conditions, such as buying a house, a car or a huge bride price. And rigid needs such as houses and cars naturally increase the propensity of families with boys to save.

  Looking at a nuclear family, that is, a family of three, child-related savings account for the largest proportion, generally reaching more than 80%. Parents rarely save for their own retirement; it is all about their children. One of the purposes of saving for children is education, and the other is marriage. Savings and investments for education are often ultimately related to marriage as well. Statistically, families with boys save 5.8 percentage points more than families with girls. Shang-Jin Wei demonstrates mathematically that children’s marriage is the most important motivation for parents to save, and that families with boys have a stronger propensity to save than those with girls.

  Subsequent studies have shown that the savings rate is higher regardless of the age group 7-21, as long as the gender imbalance between men and women is higher. This is because parents are concerned that their sons will not be able to get a wife in the future and the only way to have peace of mind is to increase savings. This empirical result is quite robust. On the other hand, many economists have proved and tested the relationship between the savings rate and economic growth. So we can conclude that the gender imbalance in China since 1980 has led parents to worry about their children’s future marriages and save to increase their savings, which eventually contributed to the growth of the Chinese economy.

  Of course, this is only a dimensional exploration, and after 2013, China gradually liberalized family planning, so fertility restrictions may no longer be a fundamental factor in the gender imbalance of the population. Will China’s gender imbalance improve? China’s savings rate has declined over the years, but it is still high, and young people are no less eager to save than older people. But whether their motivation to save has changed is still up for debate.

  The question we are most concerned about is whether the status of women will improve and whether the number of “disappearing women” will decrease.

  In the long run, the greater the gap between men and women, the lower the proportion of women in upper class jobs and the shorter the average working time, more than 100 years later.

  In terms of development levels, more than 1 billion people worldwide now lack access to safe drinking water, and 2.4 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation services. In developing countries, unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation cause 80 percent of all diseases. Women and girls suffer disproportionately from the shortage of sanitation facilities. In addition, the vast majority of global household work is performed by women. 45% of food is produced by women, and women receive only 10% of global income.

  According to the latest data, the number of resident women in rural China exceeds 300 million, and the number of women left behind is close to 50 million, the most marginalized segment of the population, all with low incomes. A survey shows that most of their reasons for staying behind are to raise their children, accounting for 61%; another common reason is to take care of the elderly, accounting for 32%. Only 6% of them really stay in the countryside for their own reasons.

  Women who stay behind mainly do not stay behind for themselves, but for their families. This group of women not only takes on a lot of unpaid care work, but also has to bear the heavy burden of agricultural work. They spend more than 50% of their daily working hours on childcare and elderly care. The value of their labor is not marketed and always unrecognized, and they have little discretionary funds at their disposal.

  At the same time, their own health and nutrition needs are often not prioritized. They also do not receive adequate education and supportive services, and rarely participate in decision-making at home and in their communities. More importantly, these women often do not have access to important resources, such as loans, land and inheritance, and do not have any economic voice or even know that they should have access to these resources. As poverty increases, so does the prejudice against women. Women who are trapped in poverty are more vulnerable and gender inequality is further exacerbated.

  One question that is often pressed is that while gender inequality is certainly high in rural areas, with all sorts of problems, it is now exactly the opposite in cities, where there are more men and fewer women, and women can easily find suitable marriage partners if they are willing to get married. Does this mean that the current demographic structure of many Chinese cities is ideal for the advancement of women’s social status, and that the problem of female poverty will gradually be improved if more women from poor areas move to big cities?

  Professor Grosgin of Australia had a paper published in the prestigious Journal of Economic Studies. He examined the impact of sex ratios on long-term income, using the demographic changes in Australia as an example. The Australian continent was only discovered by European navigators in the late 18th century, and immigration began only after 1788, and the early settlers were all British convicts. Since they were convicts, naturally the vast majority were men, with only a very small number of women. Groskin calculated the gender ratio of immigrant convicts across Australia at that time and compared it with the situation today to find the inherent evolutionary pattern.

  He found that in the short term an imbalance in the sex ratio of an area did make it easier for local women to marry and leave their laborious occupations for a relatively comfortable life. However, this also reduced the rate at which local women entered the four 19th century high class professions of education, administration, law, and medicine. In the long run, the greater the gap between men and women at the time, the lower the percentage of women in the upper-class professions and the shorter the average working hours today, more than 100 years later. At the same time, the percentage of people who agree that “men should be responsible for earning money and women should be responsible for household chores, which will make everyone’s life better” is also higher.

  This study tells us that although the imbalance in gender ratio can help women move to a higher standard of living through marriage in the short term, in the long term it will reinforce the stereotype of gender division of labor in society and culture, thus limiting the space for women to struggle, and is not conducive to changing the patriarchal concept of society. Therefore, although the current situation of having more men than women in many regions may seem to be conducive to upward mobility of women, in the long run, it has no practical benefit for the improvement of women’s status and reduction of gender inequality.

  The lesson we have learned from these studies is that the primary way to reduce poverty and increase the economic viability of poor women is to make women fully aware of their own socio-economic potential and take the initiative to improve their quality of life, rather than passively relying on marriage to change their lives. Society should increase women’s access to property, services, knowledge, and technology so that they can be more proactive in all types of decision-making and realize their potential.

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