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    Unmarried Chinese women have found yet another way to get over the stigma of being single: Flee to the West and get another degree

    An Asian woman.

    Qi Yang/Getty Images

    Some single Chinese women in their 30s are escaping the country to pursue higher education.These women say they believe getting another degree in the West has given them freedom.”37 years old is not an end for me, but a new beginning of my second life,” one woman wrote on Xiaohongshu.

    Some single Chinese women — fatigued from the social stigma of being unmarried and childless — are opting to run away altogether.

    These women — mostly millennials in their mid to late 30s — are taking to the Chinese social media platform Xiaohongshu to talk about their great escape to the West.

    These women, per their accounts, are enrolled in higher education in countries like France, the UK, and the US. Their personal accounts of pursuing advanced degrees have mostly been compiled under a Xiaohongshu hashtag that translates to “studying abroad at an older age.” The hashtag is also going viral — more than 57.5 million people, as of press time, have viewed posts made using it.

    In these diary-style posts, the women talk about how higher education in the West has been their ticket to freedom. But they also talk about the hard things — like having to learn a foreign language, getting used to being a student again in one’s 30s, and the social pressures and expectations they still face back home.

    The South China Morning Post spoke to some women who’ve posted using the viral hashtag — like “ReadySetRun,” a Xiaohongshu user whose real name is Claudia Ke.

    Ke told the SCMP that she left China at the age of 34 to pursue an MBA at the Burgundy School of Business in France. Despite having her own consulting company in Shanghai and all her friends being in the city, she gave that up to apply for postgraduate programs in Europe after the pandemic.

    “Older Chinese women try to flee the country through higher education overseas even if they don’t have a clear idea of what the future holds in a foreign country,” Ke, now 35, told the SCMP.

    ‘My second life’

    Another woman who posts under the ID “Susu in Cambridge” has been cataloging her journey on Xiaohongshu too. According to Susu, she left China at 37 to pursue a PhD at the University of Cambridge.

    “37 years old is not an end for me, but a new beginning of my second life. It reminds me to treasure the present and embrace the future,” Susu wrote in a November Xiaohongshu post.

    She added that she had received many questions from Chinese people asking her why she didn’t wish to start a family and stay home for good.

    “In contrast, in England, no one asks me about my age. No one cares about that number,” she wrote.

    She compared the freedom she has in the UK to the expectations she faces to abide by social norms in China — to graduate by 22, marry by 28, and have a child at 30, or bring embarrassment to yourself and your family.

    “I think that this is what life should look like,” she added. “Age is probably the least important marker one should abide by in life — and everyone should live the life they want to live.”

    “NEMO in Europe,” another Xiaohongshu user who quit her job in China, said she moved to France at the age of 36 to study. She wrote in September that she realized she was the oldest student in her class when they were learning how to introduce themselves in French.

    But she wrote that being older meant she’d had some work experience and knew more about what she was really interested in — so she could chart her own course with confidence.

    “We always have the right to choose to start over,” she added.

    Leftover women

    There are several push factors that may be motivating more Chinese millennial women to seek greener pastures abroad.

    For one, an unmarried Chinese female over the age of 25 runs the risk of being branded a “leftover woman” — a deeply unflattering term for those left on the shelf.

    Chinese women have also had to contend with widening gender gaps in unemployment, hours worked, and monthly salary reported throughout 2020 compared to pre-pandemic levels, per a report by Peking University’s China Centre for Economic Research.

    The report stated that working mothers with children under seven years of age were 43.8% more likely to be unemployed than women without children under that age. They also faced a 181% higher chance of being unemployed than working fathers with children under seven.

    The physical and economic burden of childbearing and childrearing has also made some women in China not want to have children.

    “I wouldn’t choose to spend a part of my income on children because it’s expensive. The biggest thing on my mind right now is how I am going to fund my retirement,” Emily Huang, 29, told BI’s Kevin Tan in February.

    Despite China ditching its controversial one-child policy and introducing a three-child policy in 2021 to boost its plummeting birth rate, its population shrank in 2022 for the first time since the early 1960s.

    The population count declined again in 2023 when the number of deaths exceeded the number of births by 2.08 million people.

    Another push factor not specific to women is China’s grueling corporate culture. The pervasive 9-9-6 corporate grind means many workers have had to get used to working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.

    And that is for those who have secured jobs. Around 14.9% of youth in China are unemployed, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, owing to a poor job market that’s still struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic crash.

    Read the original article on Business Insider

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