Leftover Women — How Millennial Women Must Fight Tradition

Michael K. Spencer
Apr 9, 2016 · 7 min read

In Asia there is a video making the rounds that’s really really relevant to Millennial women and the pressure they face to get Married ‘young’, by culture, society, their family, etc…In collectivist cultures, the pressure for women to conform to societal standards like in China or India may be even much stronger than elsewhere. To follow a prescribed social clock to be not considered a failure or different as a woman.

Millennial women in China and India, like young women everywhere are the most educated in history. They do not have to follow social standards or take the stigma around being “Sheng nu”, or a “leftover woman”, if they do not get married before the age of 27. Women deserve the time to become successful on their own, to be sure and ready for such a drastic life-change, that may indirectly limit their future opportunities!

A Contemporary Women’s Issue

It’s an outrageous and universal issue, in the fight for independence, the cultural pressure we put on women to conform is implicit in many societies, in networks, family situations, by parents, etc… It’s an emotional debate about single women that has gone viral. The truth is, I think women all around the world can relate to this. Not just Chinese women, but especially young women in India.

Over 27? Unmarried? Female? In China, you could be labelled a “leftover woman” by the state — but some professional Chinese women these days are happy being single.

In Asia, in places like Taiwan, Korea or Japan it’s not unusual for a woman to not even be dating in their 20s, but there is a big stigmatization on the value of a woman being more eligible to be married being in their 20s. So there’s a social barrier to get married if you are still single while in your 30s, heaven forbid you are in your mid 30s and still single.

But Millennials everywhere want opportunities, freedom, the ability to develop their career, get a Masters degree, follow their dreams! How to resist the pressure to get married? How to go against tradition, literally centuries of tradition and do the empowered thing, follow your own path?

The Social Clock Already is Brutal on Women

In China, State-run media started using the term “sheng nu” in 2007. That same year the government warned that China’s gender imbalance — caused by selective abortions because of the one-child policy — was a serious problem. Obviously, this becomes a huge problem if you are a woman who is very educated! If state media aggressively disseminate a term (that is fundamentally derogatory and patriarchal) to pressure your brightest women in your country to conform to a patriarchal standard, there is a serious problem with your society and the lack of freedom of women to pursue their preferred lifestyle that suits their choices, temperament and ambition!

Census figures for China show that around one in five women aged 25–29 is unmarried. In the future, we can expect this figure to get higher, following international trends. The proportion of unmarried men that age is higher — over a third. Ironically, Chinese Men “marry down” in terms of educational attainment and age typically.

The Chinese Government are concerned the so called “A level” women, won’t procreate it seems in an attempt to “upgrade” the population and so called “picky” women have been targeted, according to Leta Hong-Fincher. Yet, emancipated women all over the world, many of whom among older Millennial women are setting a new standard and being models for younger women of a different lifestyle. A lifestyle that will inevitably become more popular.

It is okay not to get married, it is okay not to have children before 35, you can follow your own way!

Now as a male, I cannot even fathom the social ostracism that must take place if you are among this highly educated and free elite woman class that does not follow the social script. In certain places in Asia, I imagine it’s still quite taboo. But it is the reality! The more educated our population is, the more this is going to start happening. I wonder for the Indian millennial women reading this, if you can relate to this as well? Can a woman in the West as well?

If we want our daughters, our brightest women to fulfill their potential, how can we expect them to get necessarily get married and start having families in their 20s?

People want to have it all, but what is the price to have it all and be young, it’s to sacrifice your freedom for a role, a role you may know deep in your heart does not honor your dreams. Do we not honor the deepest desires of our smartest women? Where does this pressure to have children, conform and play the roles of wives and mothers come from? Are our societies being realistic with regards to the roles women play in the social order?

Reality of Millennial Women

Despite pressure from society, family, friends and even our peers getting married in their 20s. The more ambitious you are, the more educated you are, the more you realize conforming may be a bad idea for you personally. For your development, your career, your livelihood. Especially in a world where divorce is increasingly probable and the economy is unpredictable.

The reality is each generation we are fighting biology a bit more and living in increasingly competitive societies. Look at the stats below:

While I think collectivist societies are great, I think women in them will stand up against some of these traditions increasingly, to show that there is another way to live and you should not be a social outcast simply to choose another path or because your life didn’t go a certain way.

Here in the West, an increasing number of people who will NEVER get married and ultimately may never have children. According to the UN, there will be 9.6 billion people by 2050. Will the Universe end if we do not become a mother or a father? Never mind just being an outcast for not getting married before the age of 27!

Stereotypes of Youth as Desirable

Strangely, so much of what happens to women seems to be based on what men prefer.

In China for instance:

  • Nine out of 10 men in China think women should get married before 27
  • Sixty per cent say the ideal time is 25–27
  • One per cent believe the best age for a woman to get married is 31–35

Source: 2010 National Marriage Survey

Here we are talking about what men think women should do! It seems many men the world over are primed to think women in their 20s are more “valuable”, related to some prehistoric instinct of “fertility”. But in a technological society, gender roles are evolving, and women are out performing men in education! A successful woman is no longer what it once was, the stereotype is changing.

Being respectful to elders, pleasing men and being obedient to a social script is one thing, but what about the well being of the woman herself! In Western society the 20s are considered a time of exploration, with many women and men not even sure as to their life’s priorities. If you are an urban woman, the idea of settling down in your 20s far from being desirable, might ironically be considered a kind of failure, a kind of escapism. So it works both ways!

A woman must know what she wants to conform with a narrow social clock that prescribes her destiny based on her biological clock…

For the modern woman, to balance education and the timing of mating and child-rearing has never been more intense, controversial and a cause of concern. Millennial women either conform to tradition, balance it with their own desires or find a new way to live that is true for them. Regardless of what their parents think, society thinks and so forth.

In a statement to the BBC, SK-II President Markus Strobel said the advert was part of “a global campaign to inspire and empower women to shape their destiny”.

Michael Spencer writes about Millennials, women in technology and other topics, read some more of his articles here.

Apr 9, 2016

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Michael K. Spencer

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Blockchain Mark Consultant, tech Futurist, prolific writer. LinkedIn: michaelkspencer