“It’s hard to be a man”: navigating ‘involuntary bachelorhood’ as a migrant man in urban China

Sarah Gosper

Univeristy of Melbourne 

Marriage is an elusive dream for many rural men in China. Due to a combination of socio-demographic and economic factors, it is estimated that by the year 2020, almost 30 million rural men aged 15-34 will become ‘involuntary’ bachelors. For an increasing number of migrant men this prediction is becoming a reality. Marriage is a significant social marker of transition to adulthood, and a powerful symbol of social status and the continuation of the family line. The process of finding a suitable mate is plagued by gendered roles and expectations, and economic and social requisites that simultaneously undermine notions of manhood among rural migrants and render marriage an unreachable goal. As the marriage market expands and evolves, many migrant men are being left behind to prepare for a future alone. Based on six months of fieldwork in Xi’an, this paper explores some initial findings from interviews with migrant bachelors working in two emerging industries: express mail delivery and food delivery services. Conversations with these men ultimately reveal that the quest for marriage is both a pressure that all men must endure and a filial duty that risks being left unfulfilled.


Sarah Gosper is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne. Her research examines rural masculinity in urban China, with a specific focus on marriage and bachelorhood. Sarah is interested in how rurality and bachelorhood intersect in urban contexts and the gendered negotiations men make to secure their future.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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