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Learning from China's Marriage Crisis


Crime doesn’t pay. That used to be the cliché moral of black-and-white detective stories during the Golden Age of television. Today, a sad variation has emerged. Marriage doesn’t pay.

A Voice for Men published a provocative list last month of “8 reasons straight men don’t want to get married.” A thoughtful consideration may leave married men with the distinct impression that they have been suckered. Less respect, less sex, fewer friends, less space, less freedom, and the threat of losing half your stuff all tilt the scales against tying the knot. Discounting any emotional or spiritual value to matrimony, the practical value seems to have diminished.

While fewer men seek marriage in the United States, more men are likely to end marriages in China after the advent of a new law which may leave their ex-wives homeless. The Telegraph reports:

According to the new law, residential property is no longer to be regarded as jointly owned and divided equally in the event of a divorce.

Instead, whoever paid for the apartment or house is the legal owner and gets to keep it in its entirety.

For a variety of cultural reasons, the legal owner tends to be the man. Chinese marriages typically occur only after the man has secured a home for the new couple. Wives labor under the cultural expectation that they care for both children and elder parents, which mostly precludes any direct financial contribution to the home. For wives, this means that their husbands now have less incentive to remain faithful, because the threat of divorce has lost most of its financial teeth.

Looking at the Chinese marriage crisis, we see yet another example of how the institution has been steadily redefined over decades from a sacred bond fulfilling a spiritual purpose to a legal arrangement teetering on the precipice of personal convenience.