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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Marriage Matters in China

As I noted yesterday, the divorce rate in the U.S. depends very much on who is getting married--if you don't get married, you won't be at risk of getting a divorce. So, it was with considerable interest that I read a paper just published online today in the journal Demographic Research. The authors are sociologists at The Ohio State University and their research focuses on the lower than average marriage rates among well-educated urban women in China.
In China, college education has expanded rapidly since 1999. Women have since then surpassed men in college enrollment and graduation. More young women with college education are seen to have challenged mate selection patterns in urban China. College-educated women who have not yet married by their late 20s are portrayed as having extreme difficulties finding a marital partner. Chinese media uses a derogative term, “shengnü” (“leftover ladies”), to describe these urban, highly educated, single women. While stigmatizing these single women, this term reveals public and family anxiety about their marriage prospects.
And, indeed, their marriage prospects are compromised, due largely to traditional gender role attitudes that persist in China. The authors use data from Chinese General Social Surveys to study these trends, noting first that gender equality was rising during the early socialist years of Maoist China, but they argue that the move toward a market economy has allowed traditional gender roles to re-emerge.
Relatedly, the breadwinner role of the husband and the homemaker role of the wife remain firmly in place in Chinese families. Strikingly, since the 2000s, there has been a growing emphasis on traditional gender roles among Chinese men and women. Urban women‟s domestic responsibilities are further reinforced by the unequal role given to mothers to raise the perfect child under the one-child family policy. Indeed, career-oriented women are commonly criticized as “selfish,” “nonfeminine,” and “irresponsible to household needs,” whereas husbands‟ failure to fulfill the provider role is often the primary source of marital conflict. This suggests that women value economic prospects in a potential mate, and that women with high earning potentials and career aspirations may not find marriage beneficial, due to clashes between career and family. Thus, we hypothesize that educational attainment is positively associated with men‟s but negatively associated with women‟s likelihood of marriage in urban China.
And, to be sure, the results confirm that hypothesis. Indeed, these data are consistent with the idea that in any society, whether it be China or Taiwan or Italy or Spain, the lower status of women in the eyes of society is a major contributor to below-replacement fertility. You do not need an official one-child policy to have very low fertility--you just need to allow women access to education and the labor force, while still forcing them into the traditional familial roles. It seems to work every time.

1 comment:

  1. Ummmmmm ... dare it say it? "Leftover ladies" in China - because they have a college education? It sounds like there are a lot of guys in China who are Male Chauvinist Pigs. I hope that the "Leftover ladies" escape to some other country to find a husband. :-)

    Pete, Redondo Beach