Society

Family values

Divorced six times, for the cash

Sorry, you're just too expensive...

If you’re looking for what marriage can do to a man, how about this: a husband from Fujian province recently begged local police to lock him up. According to Southeast Express, the man – surnamed Zhang – had been quarreling with his “nagging wife” and was at the end of his tether. Detention, he explained, was better than being with her.

WiC has reported before on China’s rising divorce rate (see WiC27) and it will comes as little surprise if Mr Zhang adds to that statistic in the near future.

But Shanghai authorities have recently unveiled a somewhat stranger marital trend. It reported that last year the number of people who remarried their spouses had increased by 20%.

According to the Shanghai Daily, 6,040 couples applied to remarry last year – most of them between the ages of 50 and 60.

So what’s going on? Did absence make the heart grow fonder, or is some baser motive at work?

The latter, it would seem. “Some of them just divorced to take advantage of the country’s relocation policies,” said Zhou Jixiang, director of the marriage-management division at the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau.

The Shanghai Daily explains: “The government allows relocation compensation for each family, thus divorced couples receive a double dip as they become two families. So the game plan is a quick divorce, pocket the compensation payments and then remarry.”

If you are looking for a couple that really has remarriage down to a fine art, Zhou says there is a perfect example in Shanghai’s district of Baoshan. Last year, he notes one pair divorced and remarried six times. A new record, apparently.

Monetary motives are also at work in family planning. In China of the past, a big family was viewed as essential. Lao She’s classic novel Four Generations Under One Roof is typical in describing the traditional model of the close-knit extended Chinese family. But in the past 30 years that ideal has been rendered nigh impossible by the one-child policy.

Once again Shanghai is at the vanguard of social change: an emerging ‘no-child’ approach to parenthood. Apparently, one in eight of Shanghai’s married couples are now choosing not to have a child, joining the DINKY generation (dual income, no kids yet). As author Chen Yu points out: “The traditional family put more emphasis on fertility, raising children, supporting the elderly and other functions, while in Shanghai young people are under such stress that more couples are placing less emphasis on childbirth and just enjoying a world for two.”

Financial considerations are the other motivating factor. The Guangzhou Daily says the cost of raising a child in modern China – nappies, food, toys, and (most of all) education – has created a new class of ‘child slaves’. Not the children but the parents themselves, of course.

In fact, the newspaper calculates that raising a child will set a couple back Rmb450,000 by the time the child is 12. The Oriental Morning Post concurs: it reckons the cost of pre-school in Shanghai now exceeds the cost of a local MBA (see WiC13).

If anything it looks likely that the proportion of DINKY’s will rise. In a recent survey of 480,000 internet users conducted by Sohu, 83% said they were too poor or too pressured to have children.

China News Net thinks modern day stress is having an impact on the population rate too. It reckons that 20 years ago only 5% of the childbearing population were infertile. But it reports that lifestyles, the fast pace of social change and increasing competition for employment has seen that number triple. The percentage is more severe still in the big cities, it worries.


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