Plight of young "leftover women" in China

(CBS News) BEIJING - At a book party in Beijing, American author Joy Chen offered dating advice for Chinese women.

"If (you) are on a date," she said, "presenting how awesome and impressive we are at work might not be the best way to impress a man."

Chen, a former deputy mayor of Los Angeles and a successful businesswoman, is the author of the Chinese language book, "Do Not Marry Before Age 30," in which she urges women to pursue their careers while postponing marriage.

But that can be a risky strategy in China, where single women over 30, and even in their mid- to-late 20s, can find themselves branded as "leftover women."

"When they go to work, people call them leftovers to their face," Chen notes.

She says these women are trapped between the present and thousands of years of Chinese history.

If they're 31 and not married, they're considered over the hill, and that's "a complete travesty!" Chen exclaims. "These women are just women who've been playing by the rules, achieving as they've been taught to achieve since they were little, getting great grades, going off to great schools, getting great jobs."

Then, in their mid-20s, she says, the rules change.

"And then, suddenly, it's like Bammo! Wham! No! Don't achieve -- you don't want to scare the boys. Slow down and jump back into your traditional roles as a wife and a mother."

The problem is, that's not easy.

Katherine Zhou spent her 20s and early 30s working on her career. Now 35, she says she can't get a date, much less a husband. Chinese men, she says, want younger, more subservient wives.

"Maybe a younger girl is more naive and easy-going," Katherine speculates.

She says many men find her intimidating. "I'm quite an independent. Maybe this is one of the reasons a person is afraid to be with me."

Katherine says she learned those qualities from her parents. Until she finds a husband, she's living with them. Which means she feels constant pressure from her mother, who says at this point, she'd be happy if Katherine married a frog.

"They think I'm too picky!" Katherine laughs.

But she says she's only interested in finding true love. "I believe there's still somebody waiting for me, and that we're just looking for each other!" Katherine says.

But, as a leftover woman, she worries it might be too late -- at the ripe old age of 35.

China's government has even made the term "leftover women" an official part of the language.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.

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