Only 20% of Chinese women believe their husband or partner is ideal

Not a good sign when your phone is more inspiring than your marriage.
Not a good sign when your phone is more inspiring than your marriage.
Image: Reuters / Carlos Barria
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Chinese women struggling to balance a career, care for their parents, and find a husband before they turn 30 can now add the prospect of an unhappy marriage to their list of worries. According a recent survey by FleishmanHillard, a public relations firm, 37% of 600 women surveyed in China said they were fortunate to have their spouse or partner in their life. Only 20% agreed with the statement, “My spouse/partner is the ideal companion I always dreamed about.”

In China, women face heavy pressure to marry, especially before age 30, after which marriage rates drop off dramatically. Men tend to marry younger women, spawning droves of “leftover women” or shengnu, in Chinese—women in their late 20s or older who haven’t married yet. One Shanghai company teaches these so-called shengnu how to convince a wealthy expatriate to marry them in 90 days. (A surplus of extra men in China, because of population controls and a preference for male heirs, allows women to be somewhat choosier, but that doesn’t lessen the pressure to marry.)

As such, pragmatism trumps romanticism for many Chinese women. According to another survey (link in Chinese), when women were asked “What kind of men are you willing to marry?” the most popular answer was a divorced man, who already owns a car and a house. (The least popular answers were “an unassuming computer programmer” and a “handsome freelancer,” according to a translation of the survey on Tea Leaf Nation, a news site that monitors Chinese media.)

The result appears to be lowering satisfaction in marriage and partnerships in China, at least when compared with some other countries. According to the FleishmanHillard survey, 73% of American women said they were fortunate to have their spouse or partner, and 48% said their partner was their ideal companion.

In China, divorce rates doubled between 1999 and 2010, and in cities like Shanghai the crude divorce rate, divorces per 1,000 people, has started outpacing the crude marriage rate. (Caveat: Some of that increase is driven by couples avoiding taxes on owning more than one home, or people marrying in order to buy property in Beijing and promptly divorcing after the transaction.)