A Career or a Family?
The Tough Decision Young Chinese Women Face
By Lichao Sun
Fanggu is a Chinese girl from a rural area. She made a studious attempt for a higher education and was successfully admitted to a university in Shanghai. After graduating, she took two years to look for any job opportunity that would allow her to stay in Shanghai, and finally landed a job in a small business paying a limited salary. Thanks to her excellent performance over the next three years, she became the department manager. However, these outstanding competencies also brought her the title of “Miss Independent” in the company. She was in an embarrassing situation such that male employees kept her at arm’s length, while other female employees were jealous of her promotion. Moreover, she was overwhelmed by the stress from her parents in rural China urging her to find a husband soon because she was already over 25 years old. Finally, Fanggu decided to resign her position and look for an easier job closer to her hometown so that she could create her own family to satisfy her parents.
Many Chinese women, similar to Fanggu, suffered from the entrenched gender gap in the workplace, as well as from shouldering stress from their marriages and families. Twenty-nine year old Limeng is another good example of “leftover” women, symbolizing urban, educated women who have good careers but are still single after the age of 27. Limeng obtained her master’s degree from a famous business school in the Britain two years ago, and soon became the product manager in the Beijing branch of an international company. However, Limeng wondered if it was wise to pursue higher education abroad instead of looking for a husband, since she had already had 200 unsuccessful blind dates.
“Men are still thinking in the old ways. They desire a young wife under the age of 25, which is the best child-bearing age,” said Limeng, “Though I have stable income, men prefer a younger wife.” Limeng is now applying for the popular television dating show, “You Are the One,” to look for a husband throughout the country.
After university graduation, female students have to make a series of tough choices between career and family. When jumping into the job market, women must suffer from the unfair competition with male applicants for job offers, receive fewer opportunities for promotion, receive incomplete welfare policies, and are affected by gender discrimination in the workplace. According to a survey on the Finance China websites, fifty percent of female applicants felt their gender negatively influenced hiring, especially when they compared experiences with male applicants who had similar qualifications. Many respondents reflected that marriage, pregnancy, and other personal family issues are the primary questions that concern most companies about female applicants, rather than their academic backgrounds or performance during the interview.
“Women workers are entitled to maternity leave with full pay. That can be a large cost for some small companies. In order to decrease additional expenses, managers prefer to limit the total number of women employees,” a respondent said. Moreover, women over the age of 30 encounter more difficulties when looking for new jobs. Most of them are married and raise their children at home for a few years, but they rarely are rehired, since an increasing number of younger, energetic female employees compete for the same positions in the workplace.
Though some female applicants successfully become part of a company, there are many problems waiting for them. Pregnancy, something that should be an exciting event for a family, becomes a challenging problem for many female employees. Many Chinese women postpone pregnancy for years in order to receive promotions in the workplace. A Chinese woman who successfully earns a degree from a university is usually approximately 23 years old. It takes two or three years for a female employee to gain working experiences sufficient to receive a promotion, when she is 25 or 26 years old The mid-twenties is considered by many to be the “golden” time for pregnancy. However, giving birth to a baby traditionally means taking least one year away from the workplace. During this time, the employee runs the risk of someone else receiving the promotion instead of her. Because of this, many women who are devoted to enterprise decide to delay the time of giving birth, contributing to an increase of ten percent of “over-aged pregnancies” in the workplace. The workplace dynamics cause women like Fanggu and Limeng to keep pursuing a higher education or a better job position, while still shouldering the censure of being considered “leftover” by society.
Many modern Chinese women, both those who have struggled in the workplace for years and those who recently graduated from college, drop out of the workforce and return to their home. According to census figures, China’s urban employment rate for working-aged women fell to a new low of 60.8% in 2010, down from 77.4% twenty years earlier.
Most Chinese men and women still keep a traditional belief of gender roles: men should work outside, while women belong at home (“nanzhuwai,” “nüzhunei”). In fact, the cultural perspectives still play a significant role in shaping the public’s opinions on women in workplaces. Traditional Chinese culture emphasizes women’s duties of raising children as well as of taking care of their husbands and families’ daily lives. Chinese women are expected to primarily take the burdens of housework and childcare rather than working outside of the home. Added to this are conditions of economic recession and high unemployment. This influences Chinese women’s preference to look for a reliable husband and stay at home, instead of competing in the workplace by themselves.
Following graduation, most Chinese women will have to decide which route best leads to their future happiness: to develop a career, or to get married and have a family? This question of how best to balance the relationship between work and family will concern Chinese women for years.
Learn more about this subject: