Independent young singles are footloose and fancy free

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Shanghai Daily, February 13, 2017
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Valentine's Day bring on the roses, chocolates and sweet nothings whispered in an ear, but don’t talk about marriage.

For many of today’s young Chinese women, romance is not the road to the altar. Independent and well-educated women with decent jobs are considered a good catch in the matrimonial sweepstakes, but many of them don’t want to get married.

A recent report found that about 36 percent of single Chinese women aren’t looking for a husband.

Indeed, single women who prefer to maintain their unattached status are on the rise. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the ratio of singles in China’s population rose from 6 percent in 1990 to almost 15 percent in 2016. The unmarried group now numbers about 200 million.

"I don't want to lower my living standard if marriage can’t give me a better life — mentally and materially," says Donna Dai, 40, a project manager in an accounting firm.

Dai, a single woman who hails from Ningbo in Zhejiang Province, has been in Shanghai for about 20 years and owns three apartments and a BMW.

She makes good money and lives what she considers the good life. Expectations about a future husband, if one indeed materializes, are high.

"I realized that it would be very hard for me to find what I wanted, so I just stopped looking," Dai says. "I did receive pressure from my mom when I was younger, but now she respects my decision. Marriage is not a must-click item on my life list."

According to China's 2010 census, almost 2.5 percent of women 30 years and older are single. That's double the figure in 2000.

Single women may be a hard sell for marriage, but they are good news for commerce. According to one report, 29 percent of single women are a strong force in the purchase of luxury products and about 16 percent go to nightclubs at least once a week. Almost a third of them spend their money on entertainment and their social lives, while only 5.4 percent are considered savers.

As recently as a decade or two ago, not getting married in China was still considered an abnormality. An unmarried man or woman was viewed as a social outcast. Singles were under great family pressure to get married and have children.

But that stigma and those stereotypes are changing slowly. In big cities like Shanghai, the single lifestyle is creating its own cachet.

Indeed, social norms have gone through several cycles since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. In the 1950s, when the country's first Law of Marriage was adopted, there was a spike in divorces. In the late 1970s, "educated youth" or zhiqing who had been sent to remote areas to support rural development tried to get back to big cities by divorcing spouses.

In the 1990s, China's dramatic policy of opening up to the outside world clashed with traditional values. And today, amid the nation's rapid economic development, women's rights and feminism have been on the upswing.

"This is the life I want so far," says Janice Gao, 31, a personnel officer at a state-owned car company.

Gao has been in a stable love relationship for three years but has no plans to don a wedding gown.

"It's risky to get married," she says. "A marriage certificate cannot guarantee fidelity. Rather, it can become a bondage that might kill romance. What's more, I'm not ready yet to be a mother and take on the responsibility of caring for a family. But my preferences create a big headache when dealing with relatives."

Society is softening its stance and developing some tolerance toward singles who want to remain unattached.

"I won't push my daughter to get married because I’ve seen too many failed marriages happening all the time," says Teng Yifang, 63, who has a 33-year-old unmarried daughter.

"I don’t think she will be happy or have a happy marriage if we push her too hard," the mother adds. "It's really up to her what to do with her life and I can only wish that everything turns out well."

The thought of having children stops some women from considering marriage. A working woman forced into four months of maternity leave can lose her footing on the career ladder, and the onus of raising a child can add stress to already harried work obligations.

"It's not only pressure on parents, but also on children," says single Fiona Luo, 34. "They have to study really hard in order to fight their way into good universities and then into good-paying jobs. Problems such as food safety and air quality affecting children also worry me. I wouldn’t want to be a selfish, irresponsible mother."

Li Yinhe, 65, a sociologist, sexologist and an activist for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights in China, predicted that marriage may decline as a serious institution in the future.

"Not really become extinct," she says, "but I think more people — maybe the majority — will choose not to marry."

Li says there is a basic conflict between human nature and the idea of marriage.

"From statistics I've read about Australia and European countries, the average rate of extramarital affairs is about 40 percent," she says. "I think that shows the inner tension between fidelity in marriage and basic human nature."

Longer life expectancy is also a factor, Li says.

"It would probably be very hard for a person to stay loyal to only one partner for 70 or 80 years," she says.

Women have a new sense of independence and the realization that they can support themselves without relying on men, she adds.

Attitudes about sex also play into the equation.

"In ancient China, getting married and having sex were intended to bear children and continue family bloodlines," Li says. "But today, the Chinese, especially the younger generations, focus more on the joy of sex and don’t regard marriage and having children as a social obligation."

Of course, the rise in single lifestyles could have its social repercussions, affecting the birth rate, aging population and shrinking labor force.

The National Bureau of Statistics said the population of people 60 years and older reached 212 million in 2014, accounting for more than 15 percent of the total. And it’s still on the increase.

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