If ever there was a country less likely to provide useful lessons for China, it is Australia. Australia has always been underpopulated. It is practically the platonic ideal of a settler colony, having wiped out the locals far more thoroughly than its American counterparts. The settlers brought British institutions with them and then improved them: in humanity’s slow move towards democracy and the rule-of-law, Oz has always been on the forefront.
But there is one thing that past Australia shared with future China: a huge imbalance of men over women!
I’ve been reading variants of that article since well back in the Clinton administration. Is anyone aware of any hard evidence linking skewed sex ratios to a more aggressive foreign policy? Because AFAIK there is none, which makes these articles Just So stories justifying another round of yellow peril pearl-clutching.
I note that China’s oldest sex-skewed cohorts are in their thirties now. So far, the major effects seem to be a rise in prostitution and a lot more time spent on the internet. Both negative social consequences to be sure, but a long way from the Tong Wars and “virile” foreign policy these two dopes are going on about.
We document the implications of missing women in the short and long run. We exploit a natural historical experiment, which sent large numbers of male convicts and far fewer female convicts to Australia in the 18th and 19th century. In areas with higher gender imbalance, women historically married more, worked less, and were less likely to occupy high-rank occupations. Today, people living in those areas have more conservative attitudes towards women working and women are still less likely to have high-ranking occupations. We document the role of vertical cultural transmission and of homogamy in the marriage market in sustaining cultural persistence. Conservative gender norms may have been beneficial historically, but are no longer necessarily so. Historical gender imbalance is associated with an aggregate income loss estimated at $800 per year, per person. Our results are robust to a wide array of geographic, historical and present-day controls, including migration and state fixed effects, and to instrumenting the overall sex ratio by the sex ratio among convicts.
In other words, the historical evidence does not point to a future of gang warfare and foreign adventurism. Rather, China will be more traditional, more married, and slightly poorer than it would have been otherwise. And if the lessons from the West and Latin America hold, the result of that will also counterintuitively be a much lower birthrate than in more gender-equal countries.
China in 2050? A big giant Queensland! But with robots.
This is not as sexy as a Venezuelan-style crime wave combined with an invasion of Siberia, or whatever. But it has the advantage of being grounded in this thing we historians call evidence.