(This guest post previously appeared at the author’s blog)
A foreigner such as myself arriving in China for the first time back in the late 1990’s was in for an indescribable culture shock, especially with regard to traditional family and marriage values. Traditional, conservative, even arranged marriages were the norm and 10 years later in most of the country, they still are.
More to the point, when a young couple married, they bought a home. The young boy and his family were expected to provide that home. In fact, if he couldn’t, the family of the bride would not allow the marriage. Not to mention the bride wouldn’t be too keen on marrying a man who couldn’t at least provide her with their own home to start their life in together.
All that has changed now.
Up to five years ago or so, the boy and his family could much more easily to afford such a “starter apartment” when priced at only 1500-3000rmb per square meter (USD $20-40 per square foot). Much like the property bubbles which have occurred in the west leaving the majority of middle class families unable to afford a home, what percentage of the middle class population in today’s China can afford USD $150 to 500 per square foot (10,000-30,000rmb per square meter) as their expected marriage starter home? Not many, as China’s property and stock market bubble creates an elite class of rich along with a 100 million strong class of upper middle income population, thus leaving many hundreds of millions more far behind in fulfilling the traditional expectation of a marriage starter home.
According to a recent Xinhua news report on real estate industry surveys of Chinese mothers, a rising 18% of the mothers would allow their daughter in today’s world of rising property prices to marry a “propertyless man”.
The number was 27 per cent in Beijing, where property prices are amongst the highest in the country, while only 15 per cent in Shanghai, also home to the country’s highest property prices. To account for the difference, I would put forth that the more business-oriented Shanghai market has much higher expectation of riches than the more countryside culture Beijingers.
No matter what, the too high too fast property price bubble in China along with all the other inflationary influences one finds in such an expanding economy and society point to such shifts in traditional values and expectations with respect to marriage and family structure.
The obvious trends also include rising divorce rates and family members living in separate dwellings rather than the traditional “si dai tong tang” of multi-generations of family living under one roof…renting that is.
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