Rise of the 3S women

By Cao Xiaofan

BEIJING: Guo Xiao, a 34-year-old single woman working as a mid-level manager in a Beijing branch of a foreign bank, is philosophical about turning down dates.

Having passed the “best marriageable age” for city women, conventionally recognised as between 25 and 30 years old, Guo refuses to rush into marriage. “Marrying ‘Mr Wrong’ is even worse than being single,” she says.

Unwed women such as Guo are labelled in China today as “3S women”– single, 70s, and stuck. They were generally born in the 1970s, are well educated and have decent jobs.

In her early 20s, Guo was an accountant in a bank in Jiangsu province, focusing her whole time and energy on her career. “I barely stopped to see a movie, let alone get involved in a relationship,” says Guo.

Many women put relationships on the backburner while they develop their careers.

Sociologist Xu Anqi, of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, notices that against the backdrop of China’s progressing urbanisation, the growing single population is the result of more time spent on education and career.

Guo was a workaholic before one day, when she was 26, she fell head over heels in love with a middle-aged photographer.

“Talented, smart and wild – he had everything I admired,” Guo recalls.

The two-year romance ended in tears. “He couldn’t promise me marriage and had no intention of settling down,” says Guo. “I met the wrong person at the right time.”

To get over the heartbreak, Guo went to Australia to pursue her studies. When she earned her master’s degree on financial management from Sydney University in 2003, Guo returned to China and secured a position as a senior accountant in a British industrial designing company in Beijing.

Guo’s parents started to nag her about marriage and even resorted to matchmakers. But their efforts were in vain. “I wouldn’t compromise by marrying a guy I didn’t like,” she says.

The number of single women like Guo, who are well educated and in well-paid jobs, is on the rise. A nationwide survey conducted by Shanghai Municipal Statistics Bureau in 2007 suggested that more than 60% of the 500,000 single people aged 30 to 50 in Beijing are women. In Guangzhou, the proportion is 70%.

Many of Guo’s friends of her age are also unmarried career women.

“Stressful work, an increasing divorce rate – there are many reasons leading career women to live on their own,” she says.

On top of that, Chinese men are reluctant to marry more mature women.

A survey conducted by Beijing Normal Uni­versity in 2006 showed about 65% of male respondents believed 25-year-old women were desirable for marriage, while only 12.5% said they could accept women over the age of 35 as wives. As a result, a huge number of that age group – many are “S3 women” – remain single.

Recently, the degrading term of “sheng nu”, which literally means “leftover women”, has been created to refer to the “3S women” as though there were something morally wrong with them.

“We’re not that passive,” says Guo. “I admit being a single woman comes with its challenges, but it also offers an opportunity to develop personally and do things outside of the shackles of a relationship.”

Guo spends about three hours a week practising calligraphy. She also enjoys whole Sunday afternoons at a beauty salon.

“I am no different to everyone else, except that I don’t have to wash men’s dirty socks and baby diapers,” she says.

In the past, China had a saying for women: To marry is to live. However, better education and jobs are giving career women better financial status.

With a monthly salary of about 16,000 yuan and a 60 sq metre well-decorated downtown apartment, Guo’s financial circumstances are secure.

“Marriage is no longer a necessity for me compared with women of my parents’ generation, unless Mr Right appears,” says Guo.

“The influence of material factors on marriage is diminishing among today’s Chinese career women,” Xu Anqi says. “Society is more tolerant of independent women.” – CHINAdaily.com.cn

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