Whoever has read The Pride and Prejudice must remember Mrs. Bennet, whose major concern is to marry off her daughters. When her second daughter Elizabeth told her that she is going to be with Mr. Darcy, her reaction is that Elizabeth will have more fine clothes than her elder sister. During Austin’s time (the author), girls marry for money. Ironically, things do not seem to differ much in China today. A popular family topic during the Spring Festival celebrations will be if any female family member is still single. Female relatives will educate the girls by emphasizing that working hard is good, but nothing is better than marrying a rich man. People like to call unmarried women over 27 leftover women. The belief is that once you are over 27, it is very hard to marry a man with a good background (a husband with money and social status).
Marrying for money is common in China these days, and just like other social phenomena, it has an economic root. The explanation for this phenomena is gender inequality. Although inequality has been improving, according to Human Development Reports (2013), China ranks 37th for gender inequality in 2013.
According to conventional Chinese beliefs, once married, the woman should be responsible for home affairs, and the man should be responsible for working. Even in today’s China, a woman who works is still expected to handle most of the family responsibilities. The heavy responsibility is an obstacle for career choices, and also a source of work place discrimination. According to a government report (2013), the participation rate for women over 15 in China was 58.7%, and for men over 15 was 71.9%. Companies’ preference of males over females is an unwritten rule in China, because women have maternity leave and are more likely to use sick day leave to fulfill their familial duties. In China, maternity leave is three-months long. Many women find that three months is not enough for the heavy family responsibility, so that they quit their jobs. In a competitive job market, it is very hard for a women to find a satisfying job after she leaves the workplace to take care of her children, which fuels the problem of inequality. Bearing all the above information in mind, a woman realizes that marrying a rich husband without getting a job can often be more beneficial. So what are these rich husbands looking for in wives? Youth and beauty are the two common elements, along with marrying at a young age.
Marriage also associates closely with real estate. A rich husband can provide a nice home to his wife and children. As housing is quite expensive in China, parents buy houses or apartments for sons, but not for daughters, because daughters will be married off. Before 2001, a home was a shared property for the husband and wife, so a woman could share part of it after divorce. Because of that, marriage acted as a form of insurance for women.
However, after 2001 when the marriage law was modified, real estate goes to the person whose name is registered when purchasing the property and who paid the down payment. This may provide some incentive for women to buy real estate and regain economic equality in this matter. Yet, women are likely to ask for money from parents due to the soaring prices. And the preference of parents may still put women at a disadvantage as male children are often favoured. Marrying a rich husband is then a viable solution, because even if the wife cannot get the real estate if they divorce, she can still share the considerable amount of wealth the husband has.
Marrying a rich husband, and not to be a left-over woman is a serious issue in China. The government is not likely to do anything helpful, because there have been no serious responses to widespread abuse of women. There are no incentives for them to do so either. The key for women is economic independence, however, there is a long way to go. First of all, women need to find incentives to participate in the job market rather than being a housewife. The condition of the market matters, see what happened during the Second World War— when women went to factories. And a woman’s educational background also matters. In the old days, women had fewer opportunities to get educated as men did. Because education has expanded for women, they are now being accepted to the institutions of higher education. In order to overcome these cultural barriers to equality, Chinese women need to continue to embrace economic liberalism. Doing so will continue to break down the cultural taboos that drive gender inequality. In conclusion, unless women seek ways to gain economic independence, it is unlikely that cultural attitudes towards the role of women will change.
United Nations Development Programme (2013), “Human Development Reports:
Gender Inequality Index”, United Nations.
Supreme People’s Court (2011), “Interpretation (III) of the Supreme People’s Court of
Several Issues on the Application of the Marriage Law of the People’s Republic of China”, Beijing.