Asian marriage in trouble

Carolyn Moynihan
24 Aug 2011
Reproduced with Permission

Asian marriage is in the news, with The Economist reporting on "the flight from marriage" in that part of the world and the London Telegraph noting the materialism which is delaying marriages in China.

As we saw last week, divorce is booming in China. But young urban women are also putting off marriage until they can find a man rich enough to already own a house, and preferably a car as well. Tying the knot without these things has become known as "naked marriage". It's a trend that seems to be partly driven by television shows. "I would choose a luxury house over a boyfriend that always makes me happy without hesitation," said one 24-year-old on a very popular dating show.

Chinese authorities don't like it -- partly, no doubt, because of its demographic implications. The country that gave the world the one-child policy faces both a shortage of women (owing to sex-selective abortions) and an ageing tsunami; the childlessness that can result from delaying marriage indefinitely is not part of its grand plan.

Playing off the gold-diggers against the divorce trend, the Supreme Court has ruled that the person who buys the family home, or the parents who advance them the money, will get to keep it after divorce.

"Hopefully this will help educate younger people, especially younger women, to be more independent, and to think of marriage in the right way rather than worshipping money so much," said Hu Jiachu, a lawyer in Hunan province.

Elsewhere in Asia, it seems, young urbanites are also delaying marriage: "The mean age of marriage in the richest places - Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong - has risen sharply in the past few decades, to reach 29-30 for women and 31-33 for men," notes The Economist. But that's not all:

A lot of Asians are not marrying later. They are not marrying at all. Almost a third of Japanese women in their early 30s are unmarried; probably half of those will always be. Over one-fifth of Taiwanese women in their late 30s are single; most will never marry. In some places, rates of non-marriage are especially striking: in Bangkok, 20% of 40-44-year old women are not married; in Tokyo, 21%; among university graduates of that age in Singapore, 27%. So far, the trend has not affected Asia's two giants, China and India. But it is likely to, as the economic factors that have driven it elsewhere in Asia sweep through those two countries as well; and its consequences will be exacerbated by the sex-selective abortion practised for a generation there. By 2050, there will be 60m more men of marriageable age than women in China and India.

Women, educated and increasingly financially independent, are mainly responsible for the trend. The rigid role division of traditional Asian marriage is also partly to blame, with women who work full time also doing nearly all the housework -- and not happy about it.

But, as in China, so elsewhere in Asia no marriage means no babies, a collapsing birth rate, men cut off from the socialising influences of marriage and fatherhood, and the weakening of family support for the elderly and ill.

Since the liberal Economist thinks this is all pretty serious, it probably is.