Love and Marriage in Modern China: Survey Reveals Latest Trends

 Love and Marriage in Modern China: Survey Reveals Latest Trends
Dec 30, 2012 By

On December 24, the National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC) and a Chinese online dating website jointly published a report summarizing a recent survey of Chinese men’s and women’s outlook on love and marriage. The results illustrate the huge current imbalance between the number of unmarried men and women in China—23.15 million more men than women (born in the seventies, eighties and nineties).

1) Unmarried urban population: 132 million
The “2012-2013 Chinese Men and Women Marriage and Romance Views Research Report” included 98,724 survey participants, of which 77,045 were deemed valid and included in the final results. According to the survey, China’s unmarried population is huge: about 249 million people over 18 years old. This supports the 2010 national census, which also reported that about 249 million 18-and-older Chinese are not married (18.6% of the total population). In addition, the proportion of unmarried 18-and-older Chinese is proportionally higher in urban areas: 132 million (19.8% of the total urban population).

2) Huge gender imbalance leads to marriage imbalance
China has a serious gender imbalance—about 26.7 men per 24.9 women—that has led to a similarly serious imbalance in the unmarried population for Chinese born in the seventies, eighties and nineties. The worst affected by the gender imbalance are Chinese born in the seventies, where there are currently 206 unmarried men for every 100 unmarried women. Those born in the eighties and nineties fare a bit better, although prominent imbalances still exists: 136 unmarried men for every 100 unmarried women in the eighties and 110 unmarried men for every 100 unmarried women in the nineties. In total, in these age groups there are 23.15 million more unmarried men than unmarried women.

In addition, substantial gender imbalances in unmarried Chinese exist in 31 provinces, particularly in Yunnan, Hainan, Guangxi, Guizhou, Shaanxi, while unmarried Chinese populations in more modernized provinces/municipalities like Jiangsu, Shandong, Beijing and Shanghai are more closely balanced. Both Guangdong and Yunnan Provinces have gender imbalances in unmarried Chinese that exceed 1 million: Guangdong Province currently has 1.65 million more unmarried men than women: a proportion of 112 unmarried men to 100 unmarried women. Yunnan Province currently has the largest gender imbalance with 122 men for 100 women.

3) Unmarried 30-something men looking for younger spouses
According to the 2010 national census, there are 11.96 million unmarried men aged 30-39 years old, as compared to 5.82 million unmarried women from the same age group (206:100). And the approximately 6.13 million men from this age group that are still “on the market” are looking for potential spouses born in the eighties and nineties, which is consequentially increasing pressure on unmarried men from these age groups.

4) Both men and women postponing marriage
As research on marriage changes of “20-somethings” show, later marriages in China have become a strong social trend, with Chinese in 2012 on average postponing marriage 1.4 years (men) or 1.5 years (women), compared to the corresponding age group surveyed ten years earlier. China’s 2000 national census reported that the average age of marriage for men was 25.3 years old and the average age of marriage for women is 23.4 years old. Meanwhile, the 2010 national census reported that the average age of marriage for men had increased to 26.7 years old and the average age of marriage for women is 24.9 years old.

5) Divorce rate increasing
The research shows that the number of divorces is growing faster than the number of marriages. From 2000 to 2012, the compound annual growth rate for divorce was 7.5%, while the compound annual growth rate for marriage was only 3.6%. According to the most recent data from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, there will be 13.5 million marriages and 3.09 million divorces in 2012. Meanwhile, both the crude marriage rate (annual number of marriages per 1,000 population) and crude divorce rate (annual number of divorces per 1,000 population) in China have gradually increased between 2000-2011. Based on the past trend, experts predict that in 2012 the crude marriage rate will reach 10% and the crude divorce rate will reach 2.29%.

6) Men are much more keen on premarital cohabitation
It seems that many single men and women have a clear idea of what romance is: holding hands. 23% of survey respondents selected “hand holding” from a list of romantic behaviors as the clearest definition of being in a relationship. However, it seems that men are more eager to move things along quickly—be it with dating, romance or marriage phases—while women are much more conservative. The research report shows that 86% of men are open to premarital cohabitation, as compared to only 36% of women.  Likewise, after the first date, on average men want to get married after about 11.4 months, as compared to 13.3 months on average for women.  

7) People born in the nineties are not actually that promiscuous
Even though many people believe that younger generations are more and more “open” with their relationships, research actually suggests that the opposite may be true. According to the results of the survey, women born in the seventies are more open to “kissing” and “sexual intercourse” than those born in the eighties and nineties (even though men born in the seventies are quite anxious about it). Meanwhile, both men and women born in the nineties are quick to “hold hands” and “cuddle”, but are still relatively cautious about actual sexual intercourse. The survey also shows that, based on a successful first date, men born in the seventies, eighties or nineties would have sexual intercourse after 12 days, 13 days or 13 days respectively. In comparison, women born in the seventies, eighties or nineties meanwhile would have sexual intercourse after 19 days, 23 days or 24 days respectively. 

8) Ideal man’s income increases with age; ideal woman’s education and salary remain low
Women born in the nineties, eighties and seventies hold the following “minimum salary” requirement for their ideal boyfriend: 5,000 RMB, 6,000 RMB and 7,000 RMB per month respectively. Basically for every ten years older a woman is, her minimum expectation increases by 1,000 RMB. Meanwhile, the survey shows that men born in the nineties have relatively low academic requirements for women, and that the ideal woman for men born in the eighties and seventies makes less than 10,000 RMB.

9) Majority of women believe home ownership is a must
According to the survey, 66% of men believe that owning a house or car is not a necessary prerequisite for marriage. However, 52% of women believe that owning a house is a prerequisite. And 5% of men and 11% of women believe that owning both a home and a car is a prerequisite. However, single older women are less likely than single younger women to cite owning a house and car as prerequisites.

10) Men prefer slim women
The survey also shows that the weight of a significant other is a constant consideration for both men and women. Although the ideal woman for men becomes more “shapely” the older he gets, men tend to draw the line at women who exceed 60 kg (132 lbs.). Similarly, women’s weight threshold for men is about 80 kg (176 lbs.).

Bland title, can you think of anything better?

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Keywords: Survey on love and marriage in China China’s unmarried population Chinese gender imbalance


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WHAT IS NORMAL?/WHOSE VERSION OF NORMAL?/THE FIRST CASUALTY. As well, when I look at the figures coming from this report I can not but think, again, that the folks doing the survey are using universal standards of matters such as promiscuity -or I assume they are, without adjusting for what is considered normal and possible in China . . . I mean, where would most Chinese go for a bit of promiscuous sex, for a bit of afternoon-delight. I personally, feel so bad for the young folks, mooning and spooning in nocks and crannies along the sidewalks, snuggled on park benches attempting to be oblivious to the steady stream of passers-by, steaming up their parent's car windows on a very public street. I mean, promiscuous or not, we do what conditions allow and I suspect that the survey does not separate out from the normal 'randiness' of Chinese folks that percentage of promiscuous outcome possible in Chinese society. Again, there seems to be two versions of normal at work here and I think that such surveys 'run-a-bit-scared' from factoring one against the other and in that way getting a better glimpse at what is really going one. I find surveys in China are conducted quite naively, simply because I suspect the surveyors and assessors do not factor for restrictions on universal goals and aspirations in China (they assume, intentionally or not, the 'normalcy' of the Chinese context) yet they do the surveys based upon a 'normal' associated with those universals. This happens everywhere to some extent but we all know how politics plays a relatively greater role in everything here. I am sure the surveys can ascertain changes within Chinese society over time . . . but I am not sure that these surveys should be used as a way of comparing Chinese culture to other cultures. I mean, for example, surveys that are not adjusted for the Chinese condition declare the Chinese to be a most humble people . . . but from my experience what seems to be humility is often passive-aggressiveness. I may be dead wrong but I have my doubts that such surveys would be 'permitted' to really look at, or adjust for, the way in which reports on social conditions in China must be mediated/mitigated such that the result represent "Chinese Characteristics" and the ideals of Socialism. This is an obvious point. But it is often the obvious that is the first casualty.

Jan 22, 2013 19:28 Report Abuse



Good catch, "lightend" . . . yes, if the survey includes those below the legal marriage age the result would certaily be scewed.

Jan 22, 2013 19:04 Report Abuse



WE CHUCKLE A LOT . . . BUT. I'd like to comment a bit on a few matters raised here. Just my own experiences really. Yes, aborting females was a very common practice in this country, so common, in fact, that many governments passed regulations placing a gag order on physicians so that they could not inform the parents of their forth-coming child's gender. When I first came to China and I was doing a fair bit of acting work, I did a lot of commercials for fertility clinics . . . it was hilarious, amazing, and a bit sobering to see how embarrassed the film crew and even some of the medical staff became when speaking opening about matters of reproduction. I used to teach Physics, English, a bit of Law at universities and so I was blessed to have contact with a very broad demographic. I would often, when I introduced myself, go though the common questions: "where do you come from", "what's your job" . . . and finally arrive at, "are you married." The students would gasp and say, "of course not I'm a student." Then sometimes I would ask, "do you have any children?" This would get a very resounding "of course not, I'm not married." And that would give me a wonderful opportunity to deal a bit with how the use of "of course not . . . " often suggests that the person using this phrase believes the question is a stupid question. And it would give me an opportunity to speak a a bit about what is REAL and what is CULTURAL REALITY - "you don't need to be married to make a baby", I would say. This would result in very loud "huhs" and "whats" . . . and then finally someone would twig to my point and the room would fill with "aaahhhs". As well, I would sometimes do an informal questionaire in order to discover how many of the female students had been 'hidden' by their parents so that that they, the parents, could take another stab at producing a male child . . . I never kept track of the numbers (although I often wish I had), that wasn't my purpose. It was just my way of developing a bit of political/social awareness - useful when using INTERNATIONAL ENGLISH and in order to understand the universal concept of the RULE OF LAW, without getting myself in too much trouble . . . but I did have the rather heart-wrenching experience of, during a writing class, being handed more than one poem or short-story from a young lady on the conditions and details of her shame associated with being hidden away. You know, we chuckle a lot at these things but it is important to remember that there are real humans involved.

Jan 22, 2013 18:49 Report Abuse



I have a friend, here in Shanghia, who told me he knows a couple that had purchased an apartment. Two years later they were told by the government that within the next year their apartment building would be torn down so that the street could be widened. The local government informed all the households in the building that each would recieve 600,000RMB, as compensation, for every individual in the family. The young couple immediately 'went to work' and got pregnant so as to incrase their compensation. I realize the provinence of this tale is a bit sketchy - the tale itself might be apocryphal . . . but knowing the way folks think here it does have the ring of truth about it . . . or at least a high probability of truth. When my friend told me this story he had trouble understanding why I was a bit shocked - he had trouble seeing that there was anything shameful about this use of a child. Oh, well . . . I'm not really the sort to be judgemental about these things and I don't really like making jokes about it all - not because I'm such a serious person but because I know that 'there but for the coincidence of my birth go I' . . . However, I do find the whole discussion of owning a home here in China to be a bit "ridiculous" - as Ambivilentmace suggested. And I and my wife agree with Donluis, and have no intention of purchasing a home, which could be taken back by the government at any time. The governments in China first began, about 30 years ago, giving a sort of 30 year 'ownership' to factory operators. I have heard that some of these factory owners, now that their 'ownership' (lease in reality) has come up for renewal have been told that their land will be expropriated for more updated uses - and "oh, by the way, could you please move your factory." Apparently there are quite a few factories going for little or nothing, if you can find a place to set them up. Where does one store a factory? And has anyone been listening to te news about how it is that the government will begin 'clawing back', from the peasant organization, ownership of rural farming land, lands which will then be used for devolopment. I have read a little, but can't make much sense out of the political and logical hoop-jumping that is going on to justify this overturn of traditional socialist ideals. Now, now . . . I'm not a political animal and I think that any form of governance and that they are all flaw in some contexts and suitable in others, provided they treats the people fairly, are transparent, voluntarily updates itself, and can 'laugh' at itself. Unfortunately, these are not very common aspects of governance. Government are often caught in contradictions brought on by an unwillingness to accept responsibility for poor decisions in the past - I mean, everyone makes bad decisions but matters improve immensely if leaders and individuals are not so reluctant to admit to poor judgement or to admit that an idea's time has come and gone. Man but the way in which face-saving can cause folks to try and 'dig themselves out of a hole.' I see all this talk in praise of government for the thundering development that has occurerd in this country and yet it is more accurate to say that development was really delayed, that the opening and reform policies have not powered development but were simple a fact of opening a door that should have been opened a long time ago. Again, just as with my comments about the lack of sexual fulfillment an marital happiness in China, here I also want to point out how it is that root causes are ignored. Government often eased restrictions not as result of forward thinking decisions but as a means of mintaining as much of the status quo as possible. Now, this sort of trade-off and face-saving are not unique to the Chinese context . . . but the degree to which this occurs is certainly greater here in China. Face-saving is such an embedded part of tradition here.

Jan 22, 2013 18:27 Report Abuse



erm,, the legal age for Chinese to marry is 22 for guys and 20 for girls. so you could say that 100% of late teenage men and women are unmarried. shock horror. why didnt they do the test for the legal ages of marriage not before the legal age???? perhaps its just me that finds that crazy. its like saying the UK has x million of 1-15 year olds who arnt married. and a 98% of 16-17 year olds are unmarried, its not surprise.

Dec 31, 2012 18:38 Report Abuse



Holding hands is the best a Chinese guy can come up with as being in a relationship? Gee, don't expect the marriage figures to increase too quickly on that basis. Wasn't it fashionable to abort female foetuses a few years ago and is that a possible reason for the imbalance in the ratio of men to women? Cohabitation before marriage should be a necessity not a choice. If the Chinese male considers holding hands as a sign of a serious relationship no wonder divorce rates are high because they really don't know anything about their future partners at all. While Chinese custom tends to frown on that lifestyle it would more than likely help to lower the divorce stats. Would you buy a car without a test drive? No. I might also suggest that the GFW opens it's doors to a bit of online porn. That would assist with the sex education of the population. Well, if nothing else it would keep millions of Chinese men off the streets hunting for a partner!!

Dec 30, 2012 16:10 Report Abuse