China’s one-child policy could leave more than 24 million men unable to find a bride by the end of the decade, according to a report.

The country’s leading think-tank describes the gender imbalance among newborns as the most serious demographic problem facing China. The surplus of bachelors has been described by senior officials as a problem that could lead to a surge in crime and social instability.

The report makes no bones about how the one-child policy — introduced to curb population growth and still in place in most circumstances — has led to a preference for boys.

“Sex-specific abortions remained extremely commonplace, especially in rural areas,” the report, published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said.

Officials acknowledged that the introduction of ultrasound scans in the 1980s resulted in a surge of abortions of female fetuses after parents tried to ensure that their only child was a boy who could carry on the family line. That tradition is important in a society where reverence of ancestors continues to underpin the social structure and where farmers want sons.

“The problem is more serious in rural areas due to the lack of a social security system,” the report said.

Abortion is legal and widely available. China bans tests to determine the gender of a fetus for non-medical reasons, but these are still carried out, mainly by underground clinics in rural areas.

Click here to read more from the London Times.