The institutions of marriage and family have undergone a shift in terms of their role in Chinese society. The gender-skewing impact of China’s one-child policy has left the nation with a dearth of young women relative to their male counterparts (a product of many Chinese parents’ preference that their only offspring be male). This, along with China’s growing economy and influx of new wealth, has induced both an imbalance in terms of bargaining power between men and women, as well as the advent of a more utilitarian culture around the practice of marriage.
The forces that led to this phenomenon have left a gap that is still growing between male and female, with one source estimating “…there could be 24 million Chinese men unable to find wives by the end of the decade” (NPR). The leverage this has lent to young, marriageable Chinese women is staggering. Once forgotten, or at least downplayed, traditions of lavish dowries and parental generosity have made a comeback. The “bride price” is driven up both by the aforementioned gender disparity, as well as the growing urban Chinese middle class; it is such that the current state of affairs is strikingly different from the cost of Chinese marriages even just a decade ago.
As with mere money, housing too has become a more prominent part of the modern Chinese courtship process. A groom is expected to provide an apartment to any new urban bride, often taking out loans to finance the purchase. In such a competitive market where women are largely free to refuse any advances made by a man perceived to be of insufficient resources, the parents of grooms-to-be must often help foot the bill.
There is an economic impact to this story as well, however. One Professor at Peking University asserts that “rising sex ratios contribute to two percentage points of GDP growth” (NPR). This is due to a combination of factors: in addition to the mere consumption boost of more extravagant weddings, the aggressive ambitions of many young Chinese men are being propelled by a desire to appear more marriageable to potential brides. This increased financial ambition also manifests itself in the form of foreign demand for Chinese men; among Korean women seeking foreign-born husbands, Chinese grooms are seen as the most desirable (Korea Biz Wire).
The increased focus on the financial is not only from the bride’s perspective, however. Marriage in general has taken on a more monetarily minded and pragmatic tone as more and more couples marry for convenience or advancement rather than love. In Beijing, where a stingy license plate lottery has capped the number of new cars allowed in the ever-expanding metropolis, “license plate marriages” are becoming more common. With only about a 12% chance of landing a license plate via the city’s lottery (WSJ), many individuals will seek marriage partners, even temporary ones, simply for the convenience of transferring the spouse’s plate number to themselves.
All told, the culture of marriage in China is rapidly divorcing itself from Western conceptions of romantic marriage and becoming more calculated. While some of this is cultural, much of it appears to be driven just as much, if not more, by economic or demographic factors.
http://www.npr.org/2013/04/23/176326713/for-chinese-women-marriage-depends-on-right-bride-price (Image Source)