China’s single men… Photo: genychina.com 

Asian marriage is in the news, with The Economist reporting
on “the flight from marriage” in that part of the world and the London
Telegraph noting
the materialism which is delaying marriages in China.

As we saw last week, divorce is booming in China. But young urban
women are also putting off marriage until they can find a man rich enough to
already own a house, and preferably a car as well. Tying the knot without these
things has become known as “naked marriage”. It’s a trend that seems to be
partly driven by television shows. “I would choose a luxury house over a
boyfriend that always makes me happy without hesitation,” said one 24-year-old
on a very popular dating show.

Chinese authorities don’t like it — partly, no doubt,
because of its demographic implications. The country that gave the world the
one-child policy faces both a shortage of women (owing to sex-selective
abortions) and an ageing tsunami; the childlessness that can result from
delaying marriage indefinitely is not part of its grand plan.

Playing off the gold-diggers against the divorce trend, the
Supreme Court has ruled that the person who buys the family home, or the
parents who advance them the money, will get to keep it after divorce.

“Hopefully this will help educate younger people,
especially younger women, to be more independent, and to think of marriage in
the right way rather than worshipping money so much,” said Hu Jiachu, a
lawyer in Hunan province.

Elsewhere in Asia, it seems, young urbanites are also
delaying marriage: “The mean age of marriage in the richest places—Japan,
Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong—has risen sharply in the past few decades, to
reach 29-30 for women and 31-33 for men,” notes The Economist. But that’s
not all:

A lot of Asians are not marrying later. They are not
marrying at all. Almost a third of Japanese women in their early 30s are
unmarried; probably half of those will always be. Over one-fifth of Taiwanese
women in their late 30s are single; most will never marry. In some places,
rates of non-marriage are especially striking: in Bangkok, 20% of 40-44-year
old women are not married; in Tokyo, 21%; among university graduates of that
age in Singapore, 27%. So far, the trend has not affected Asia’s two giants, China
and India. But it is likely to, as the economic factors that have driven it
elsewhere in Asia sweep through those two countries as well; and its
consequences will be exacerbated by the sex-selective abortion practised for a
generation there. By 2050, there will be 60m more men of marriageable age than
women in China and India.

Women, educated and increasingly financially independent,
are mainly responsible for the trend. The rigid role division of traditional Asian
marriage is also partly to blame, with women who work full time also doing
nearly all the housework — and not happy about it.

But, as in China, so elsewhere in Asia no marriage means no
babies, a collapsing birth rate, men cut off from the socialising influences of
marriage and fatherhood, and the weakening of family support for the elderly
and ill.

Since the liberal Economist thinks this is all pretty
serious, it probably is.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet