PhD after 25 equals no husband or family? Marriage pressure on Chinese women

Laura. I’m a graduated student. 25years old. I wanna go to Canada get a PhD. But my parents worries about my age. They think I’m too old when I’m finished my PhD degree. Coz I don’t have a boyfriend n 30 is a little bit old for a female to have child. So what should I do?

Intercultural relationships

This was a question I received on my WeChat account the other day and it made me incredibly sad because it points the things about Chinese culture I struggle with the most – the terrible sexism and pressure on young Chinese women in relation to marriage and family.

This message could have been written by any number of my Chinese friends I know from uni, many of whom are still single but all of them face the incomprehension and mighty pressure from their parents’ generation. The belief that if you are not married at 25 as a woman in China you will not find a husband is still incredibly common, so much so that the media has popularized the disgusting term “leftover women”. The men also face pressure but less so.

Many women who struggle to find partners are highly educated and successful because Chinese men tend to marry down, looking for women who earn less and have lower degrees than them. So, to this young woman, deciding to do a PhD at 25 might well be saying good-bye to her prospects of finding a “good” husband. Staying single though means failing at life in China.

The pressure is so much that many women do not want to go home during Chinese New Year because they will face endless badgering about when they will finally get married. This has even led to the emergence of a new market, the “fake boyfriend market”, where young students will rent themselves out to pretend to be a boyfriend in front of the parents to appease them.

In the past, the dating window in which to find your partner was worryingly small. Of course you were not allowed to date in high-school. University was, and for a dwindling number, still is the time for Chinese youngsters to experience their first romance. Leaving women with about five years to find a partner.

However, many couples break up after graduating university; being from different hometowns they often return to their families and their relationship cannot survive. The phenomenon is so common it even has its own term “毕业分手“, the “graduation break-up”. This leaves most women with about a two to three year-window to find the right guy. And you thought you had it tough, ey?

Despite all the negativity, I chose to see the big strides China’s women are making. Here is my response to the young woman.

Hello dear Li!

Thank you for sending me your question. I felt very emotional reading your words, since after almost two years in China, I finally understand the pressure young Chinese girls are under and it breaks my heart.

I personally think if you want to do a PhD you should DEFINITELY do it. Do not have any regrets in your life when you are old. I am certain you will find your right partner, who knows you might meet him in Canada. If you go abroad you will certainly have more time to look for someone because there is no concept of 剩女. Age matters much less, and there is no idea that you are ever really too old to get married.

In most Western societies it is very common for people to get married after they are thirty years old and many have children in their thirties. My mother had me, her only child, when she was 36. Now that medicine has progressed, that is a very common age abroad to have a child. There is a lot less pressure to get married compared to China, if you do not get married or have children that does not mean your life has failed. You can do amazing things with your life, such as have a great and successful career. Your PhD is another step on the road to a bright and independent future.

Even if you stay in China you cannot be sure you will meet a good guy to marry, so it is smarter to invest as much as you can in your own future, and a PhD will help you achieve your own success.

In terms of your parents, I think you can help them worry less by telling them this: even in China the age to get married is slowly increasing. Especially in bigger cities. I have many friends who are your age and older and are not married. One of my friends works in Shanghai and many of her colleagues are over 30 years and still single. I think your situation is very common in today’s China. Your generation has dreams they want to pursue and it is becoming quite common to focus on career but the older generation is not able to understand that times have changed.

Aside from telling your parents that they don’t need to worry because abroad you have more time and because even here in China it is now common to wait, maybe try to explain what could happen if you do not wait. You might just marry some boy you know very little just to please them, and then you might divorce because you find out you are not a good match. I am sure your parents are concerned about your happiness, so hopefully they will take this to heart.

Finally, you can promise that you will attend some events abroad that can help you find a partner, there are many societies at university where you can meet people and with a bit of luck you will meet the right one.

I hope this helps and I sincerely wish that you can fulfil your dream of a PhD in Canada. I wish you all the luck in the world!


Follow my official WeChat account for shortened versions of my blog posts and Q&A’s at “lauranews”.

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