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Survey Reveals Social Status of Women in China
Editor's notes: The statistics released in this article are the result of further analysis of the figures and conclusions contained in the 'Second Survey of Chinese Women's Social Status' which commenced in December 2000. Summary conclusions (only) were made public in September last year.

Our rationale for revisiting the survey now is that the summary reportage already published provides only a broad-brush overview of the opinions of Chinese women. The following figures, released here for the first time, offer a deeper insight into social realities by reporting on such issues as satisfaction with lifestyle and changing attitudes to sex.

We do also think it is appropriate that you the reader (and of course the participants in the survey) should be made aware of the full results. We feel this should be more than just a reference document used only by experts and researchers.

The Second Survey on Chinese Women's Social Status, co-sponsored by the All China Women's Federation and the National Bureau of Statistics, showed:

Satisfaction with Intellectual Life Falls Behind That with Material Life

Material standards of living have improved greatly with the rapid growth in the nation's economy. The survey showed 76 percent of those interviewed felt at least satisfied with their material life. This included 20 percent who actually said they felt very satisfied.

Compared with the high percentage of satisfaction with material standards, satisfaction with cultural life and educational status was much lower. About 67 percent felt satisfied with their cultural life but less than half of the interviewees (47.5 percent) were satisfied with their level of education.

More Satisfied with Family Life Than Social Life

About 77 percent of the interviewees felt satisfied with their social status, while 18 percent were not very satisfied and the rest were very unsatisfied.

Corresponding to the high satisfaction rate towards the roles of men and women in family life, most participants expressed content with their married life, totaling 94.5 percent. This includes some 46 percent who were very satisfied with their current marriage.

Three Outdated Concepts Challenged

  • Men call the shots while women keep the house.

    Supporters of this concept represented over half of those interviewed. This view was particularly evident in rural areas and men proved more likely than women to accept this stereotyping. In the cities however, some 63 percent of women did not subscribe to this view.

    Perhaps urban women have a more strongly developed sense of self-development and identity.

  • Do well or marry well.

    The concept that it is better to marry for money than developing a career was noticeably more strongly supported by women than men both in urban and rural areas.

    About 39 percent of rural women and 34 percent of urban women expressed their support for the concept. Among men those in favor were 30 percent in rural areas and a very similar 31 percent in the cities.

    It is perhaps surprising to see this opinion so widely accepted by women with the obvious spin-off to the cause of women's self-development.

    Besides that, this trend will strengthen women's dependence on men and weaken their sense of self-determination. In all it is a result quite contrary to an image of female self-reliance.

  • A woman is not complete without a child.

    The survey shows only a quarter of participants agreed with this concept. In fact nearly 70 percent selected either the "not quite in favor" or the "quite unfavorable" categories for their responses.

    This result is interesting as for centuries it had been accepted in China that it was the basic responsibility and indeed natural duty of women to bear children. It points towards more open and liberal attitudes towards relationships between men and women.

    Four Emerging Issues Put to the Test

  • Should women hold at least one third of the high level positions in the government?

    About 75 percent of the interviewees agree with the proposition and of these 35 percent were strong supporters. However, 11 percent disagreed and a further 14 percent failed to give a clear response.

    But three-quarters of the participants identified with the hypothesis that the improvement of women's status is the natural result of economic development. Only 18 percent didn't agree and 8 percent were just don't knows.

    The survey showed that though traditional ideas on social roles are being gradually eroded they still have some residual support.

  • Should extramarital affairs be acceptable?

    Half of the survey participants thought they should be acceptable but only when their spouses fall into "accidental love affairs" or make "casual mistakes." About a third said they would not accept extramarital affairs at all.

    This demonstrates a significant polarization of views on sexual behavior and the opinions expressed were much the same across all types of participants.

  • Should the husband undertake half of the housework in the family?

    More than 80 percent of the people said yes, the husband should undertake half of the housework. Women interviewees in particular, from both cities and villages, strongly supported the idea of equally shared housework. Men however tended not to share their enthusiasm for this one.

    The one-month-long survey conducted in December 2000, covered 19,512 citizens between the ages of 18 and 64 and some 3,000 village committees. Of the respondents, 8,875 were men (45.6 percent) and 10,574 were women (54.4 percent).

    (china.org.cn, translated by James Liu, July 19, 2002)

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