In the U.S., the bride and her parents are expected to pay for the wedding, the gown, and to be in charge of the wedding arrangements. However, in China it is the opposite. Instead, grooms are expected to pay a “bride price” – ordinarily $10,000 – often alongside purchasing an apartment and a car. A more traditional and old-fashioned practice, these wedding standards are taking over China and redefining marital practices, affecting both Chinese men and women.
NPR reporter Louisa Lim associates this new market-place marriage system to the imbalance of boys to girls in China. Due to the one-child policy and the traditional cultural preference for boys, approximately 117 boys are born for every 100 girls. As Lim notes, based off this estimate, there will be 24 million Chinese men unable to find wives by the end of this decade. As a result, women have now become commodities as brides and, as such, they can afford to be choosier and more demanding.
Compared to previous decades, this new marital standard is much more financially demanding. According to a 2011 survey, nowadays 70% of Chinese women expect a man to provide an apartment along with the marriage offer and betrothal gift of money. And women are able to make these high demands because their comparative scarcity allows them this bargaining power.
In fact, women’s marital demands are actually making China’s economy grow faster. As Xiaobo Zhang, an economics professor at Peking University states, “Rising sex ratios contribute to two percentage points of GDP growth.” Zhang’s studies have shown that up to 25% of China’s economic growth is a direct result of the growing sex ratio.
In addition, more young men are forced to work harder in order to be able to afford a wife. As Zhang notes, this includes more men becoming entrepreneurs, taking riskier jobs (such as construction positions), and working longer hours – all of which contributes to China’s economic growth.
There are already burgeoning questions as to whether women are actually benefiting from these marital arrangements. Leta Hong Fincher, for instance, argues that as a result of these marriage practices, women are getting shut out of real estate wealth. However, really only time will tell how long these marital practices continue and the extent of its effects on China’s economy and people. In her NPR article, Lim focuses on the marriage of Lucy Wang and Derek Wei. Just weeks after their wedding, Wang and Wei are already expecting their first child – and, interestingly enough, the couple is hoping that it will be a girl. As Wang states, “We wouldn’t have to buy her an apartment and she’d cost us less than a boy.” After centuries of male preferential treatment , this is at least one interesting and notable change as a result of these marriage standards – girl babies are now more desirable than boys.
Images via: NPR, Telegraph, Cultural China