Beijing: China`s rapid rise has helped majority of urban women in the country to gain financial independence but it also left many of them single.
The numbers of single woman, who contributed to the development in Chinese cities were rising ominously exposing them to traditional prejudices that labelled unwed women second-class citizens, leading population research experts said.
According to last year`s census, Shanghai alone has more than five lakh single women aged between 20 and 50, which was a rise from fewer than one lakh in early 1990s, Chen Yaya, a population researcher at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences said.
Society still regards unwed women "like aliens".
"And the media somehow labels single women in their 30s as `left on the shelf`," Chen said, adding discrimination is worse when single women have children.
"A single mother in Shanghai has to pay 15,919 yuan (USD 2,460) to the city government to obtain household registration for her child while married mothers get a pregnancy subsidy of 10,000 to 30,000 yuan.
It means the authorities still deem single mothers second-class citizens by denying them equal benefits," Chen told state-run Global Times today.
Many companies do not grant single women paid pregnancy leave, adding extra financial stress to single mothers, Chen said.
Studies have found more than four per cent of single women in Shanghai are gay: a "liberating figure," Chen said.
Also, China`s divorce rate has reached an all-time high.
More than 4.65 lakh married couples filed for divorce in the first quarter of 2011, a 17.1 per cent annual increase, according to marriage and divorce registration statistics released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs in June.
More than 82 per cent of women saw "singledom" as a positive way of life, according to Chen`s demographic studies in 2007.
"Single women still face pressure from society. Women in Shanghai are more gender-conscious than in Beijing or other coastal cities," Chen said.
"It`s good news for sexual equality."
"The financial independence of professional white-collar workers has allowed women to lead a happily single life.
Marriage is traditionally seen as a safety net for women but it is no longer so for women with relatively high salaries. Marrying up is no longer considered an achievement."
According to Chen, the Chinese mainland has seen four waves of "singledom" starting from 1920s when marital laws abolished bigamy.
It was followed by facilitation of long-delayed divorces at the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1970s and rise of modern feminism in 1990s followed by urbanisation.
"Now career-driven women can decide their own way of life, especially when the rising divorce rate in urban areas has cast doubt on the link between happiness and marriage," Chen said.