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A flower market in Beijing on Monday, the day before Valentine’s Day. China’s large gender gap is causing problems for the country’s men, especially poorer, rural ones.

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Roman Pilipey/European Pressphoto Agency

SHANGHAI — If you’re a “single dog,” a “bare branch,” a “leftover man” or a “leftover woman” — all monikers for unmarried Chinese — you may find Valentine’s Day particularly trying.

Judging by the numbers, quite a few of the long faces on Tuesday should belong to men.

That’s because China’s gender gap remains huge. There were 33.59 million more men than women in China in 2016, according to figures from the country’s National Bureau of Statistics that were issued last month, and 48.78 percent of China’s 1.38 billion people are female, compared with a global average of 49.55 percent.

For men, especially those lower on the socioeconomic ladder, marriage can be hard to attain.

The reasons for the gap are well known: a traditional preference for boys, compounded by the “one child” policy instituted in 1979 that led millions of couples to abort female fetuses. Worried by one of the world’s lowest fertility rates, the government changed the policy last year to permit all couples to have two children.

On Valentine’s Day, “I see a lot of stressed-out people around for different reasons,” said Li Xuan, a psychology professor at N.Y.U. Shanghai who studies fatherhood and relationships.

“They’re going to see a phenomenon that is made to seem universal,” Ms. Li said. “It’s not a nice feeling. A lot of the consumerist and entertainment activities are so geared toward couples that you kind of get a bit of hurt everywhere in the big cities in China.”

Yet the percentage of people who are married in China is higher than in surrounding, more economically developed Asian societies such as Japan and Singapore, and some Western nations, Ms. Li said on Monday, presenting a paper titled “The Myth of Singlehood” at the university’s spacious premises in the Pudong business district.

According to 2010 national census data, about 24.7 percent of Chinese men and 18.5 percent of women above the age of 15 have never been married, Ms. Li said. The government regularly says that China has 200 million singletons and frets in the state news media over who will care for them in their old age without a family of their own. In China, elder care is the legal responsibility of adult children.

By contrast, Ms. Li said, figures for Japan show 31.3 percent and 22.9 percent of people in comparable categories have not married, Ms. Li said.

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A symbolic marriage license ceremony on Valentine’s Day at a marriage registry office in Beijing. Despite the gender gap, marriage is widespread in China.

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Wu Hong/European Pressphoto Agency

In other words, despite the gender gap, which is causing problems, especially for poorer, rural men, marriage is widespread in China. So how serious is the plight of China’s “single dogs,” as unmarried men are jokingly called?

“I would not say it’s not serious, because in China even the smallest fraction of the population is thousands and thousands of people, and of course each individual is important,” Ms. Li said. “But I don’t think it’s as catastrophic as we hear in the media.”

Underlying the panic is a conservative worldview, she said.

“I think people are anxious about deviance from the traditional family ideal,” she said. “Chinese culture believes that everything rests on the family. If the family collapses, it’s like the world is over, so now the family seems to be collapsing, and I guess that maybe pushes the button a little more among Chinese people.”

Marriage registrations have declined since 2013, Ms. Li said, citing figures from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, though they rose over the previous decade.

How does China fix the problem of not just hurt feelings on Valentine’s Day, but of the gender gap?

In a society where men control politics, with few women in positions of power, Mr. Li said, “the men need to act.”

“The next generation needs to stop gender-selective abortion to start with, get the numbers right,” she said. This type of abortion is illegal, but many people undergo the process, sometimes by bribing a doctor.

The gender ratio in China appears to be falling, from a high of 121 boys born for every 100 girls in 2004 to about 113.5 boys in 2015, according to official figures. Worldwide, the ratio is about 104 boys to 100 girls.

However, in its recent census report, the statistics bureau did not provide the gender ratio for 2016, so it is unclear whether the trend is continuing.

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