Partly as a result of China’s gender gap (we have blogged about this before) the “bride price” in many parts of China is putting people off marrying. What is a “bride price”? Well according to the Quartz website, it’s “a kind of reverse-dowry in which men pay a woman and her family in order to marry her”.  This tradition is making it difficult for Chinese couples to marry:

“Because it’s difficult for men of normal means to meet the expected bride prices, many of them simply cannot afford wives. Though Shanghai had the highest bride price [typically $16,300], in most provinces it fell in the range of $9,780 to $13,000 range, and many online commenters said the map underestimated the standard bride price (link in Chinese). The average annual income, by contrast, is about $9,300.”

Why do parts of China have this tradition? 

“The tradition was originally conceived to provide for the bride’s aging parents, since she would presumably be caring for her husband’s parents as they aged. But though that’s no longer a worry, many brides and their families still expect suitors to shell out, viewing male income as a barometer of marriageability.

Even beyond stated bride prices, to be considered eligible for marriage, men are usually expected to buy a house—”build a nest to attract a phoenix,” as the saying goes. China’s skyrocketing real estate prices make that an increasingly burdensome requirement: a 100 square-meter apartment in Shanghai costs around $400,000 these days.”

And the widening gender gap is also perpetuating the tradition. But what is interesting (and counter-intuitive):

“China’s worsening gender gap may be perpetuating the tradition. In theory, the scarcity of young women (link in Chinese) means that potential brides can be choosier. But, in fact, some of the highest bride prices are actually found in areas where the gender gap is less acute than the national average—Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning provinces—and in relatively poor areas like Qinghai. That’s because local customs typically outweigh economics.”

What is also fascinating is that the “bride-price” is not always a monetary amount:

“Custom also explains the variation in items on the bride price list. Take Shaanxi province, where the going bride rate starts at $5,000, plus  five quilts, three pieces of gold jewelry, and three of silver. Numerology, meanwhile, accounts the prevalence of Inner Mongolia’s livestock given in multiples of nine and all the 8s in the bride prices of Guangxi.”

While in Beijing, the going rate is at least ¥10,001, two boxes of Daoxiangcun cookies, two bottles of Maotai liquor, two boxes of tea and two cases of fruit.

There are options for Chinese men thankfully:

“It’s not hard to see why many men online proposed searching for brides in Chongqing. Because people there marry earlier, before they start making money (link in Chinese), the bride price is $0.”

The other, less savoury, option is to steal a bride from North Korea

While not a tradition, similar concerns surface in New Zealand. I have more than one friend who is not getting married to his partner because he can’t afford the wedding. WHich I think shows the expectations that we have for a wedding day. I think it’s a terrible pity and my advice to these friends is always to elope.

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...