AccScience Publishing / IJPS / Volume 4 / Issue 1 / DOI: 10.18063/ijps.v4i1.669

Four decades of transition to first marriage in China:  Economic reform and persisting marriage norms

Xiaorong Gu1*
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1 Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, Singapore
IJPS 2018, 4(1), 24–38;
© Invalid date by the Authors. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution -Noncommercial 4.0 International License (CC-by the license) ( )

This study draws on three waves (2012, 2013, and 2015) of pooled data from the China General Social Survey to examine two major dimensions of the transition to first marriage among four cohorts of youths, i.e., the transition tempos and the homogamy patterns. Key findings include: (1) There is no evidence of systematic delays in family formation among cohorts coming of age after reform, albeit moderate cross-cohort heterogeneity. Two cohorts are identified for their unique trajectories: The Cultural Revolution cohort with a relatively protracted transition process and the late reform cohort with a rather condensed marriage formation pattern, (2) respondents who belong to older cohorts, who are men, who have received higher education and hold urban hukou have lower risk in entering first marriage by a certain age, and (3) I recorded steady growing strengths of homogamy over cohorts, with the Ф parameters rising from 0.42 for the Cultural Revolution cohort to 0.56 for the late reform cohort. The overall message is that four decades of rapid economic development in post-reform China have failed to weaken persisting marriage norms and practices among young people, contrary to well-documented empirical evidence from many other national contexts. I ruminate on potential institutional and cultural mechanisms underlying such an intriguing phenomenon.

China-economic reform-transition to marriage-social norm

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