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Portrait Lisa Eklund. Photo: Emma Lord.

Lisa Eklund

Associate Professor | Senior Lecturer

Portrait Lisa Eklund. Photo: Emma Lord.

The sex ratio question and the unfolding of a moral panic? : Notions of power, choice and self in mate selection among women and men in higher education in China


  • Lisa Eklund


  • Sharada Srinivasan
  • Shuzhuo Li

Summary, in English

Young adults have largely been absent in previous research on consequences of high sex ratios in China and few studies have zoomed in on those belonging to the higher strata of the population. With the purpose of contributing to filling this gap, this study investigates what implications sex ratio imbalance has for mate selection strategies and practices among young adults aged 19–24 in higher education in China. Being qualitative in nature, the chapter problematizes notions of power, choice and self in mate selection. The study finds that the sex ratio question has contributed to new social risk, and the fear of being leftover has unfolded into a moral panic. With universal marriage as a norm, both women and men studied fear being subject to a marriage squeeze. Contrary to the dyadic power thesis, the study finds that women in higher education did not experience an advantage in mate selection despite their shortage. Reasons for this include elaborate criteria for the ideal spouse, gendered dating scripts and confined social circles. The risk of being “leftover” further makes both young men and women as well as their parents aware of the remote consequences of choice, which may instigate intentions of early timing of marriage, as well as hypergamous norms, as further fuelled by the construction of the “utilitarian woman” in media and popular discourse. The chapter concludes that by being constantly reminded of the risk of being “leftover”, marriage as a norm is further intensified among young adults.


  • Sociology

Publishing year







Demographic Transformation and Socio-Economic Development

Document type

Book chapter




  • Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)


  • sex ratio
  • marriage squeeze
  • hypergamy
  • moral panic
  • mate selection
  • choice
  • utilitarian self




  • Family life and intimate relations of young adults in the context of a shortage of women


  • ISBN: 978-3-319-63274-2