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(Re)emergence of Late Marriage in Shanghai: From Collective Synchronization to Individual Choice


Cai, Yong & Feng, Wang (2014). (Re)emergence of Late Marriage in Shanghai: From Collective Synchronization to Individual Choice.. Davis, Deborah S. & Friedman, Sara L. (Eds.) (pp. 97-117). Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.


Since 1950, age at first marriage has risen noticeably in both affluent OECD nations and in emergent economies throughout the world. Driving this trend are such structural changes as increasing enrollment of women in postsecondary education and expansion of white-collar jobs. By remaining in school into their early twenties, women delay entry to the marriage market; in aspiring to a career, men delay marraige until they are professionally established. These delays not only reduce parental control over a child's marriage and give young adults greater latitude in choice of spouse and timing of marraige (Jones 2007; Mason, Tsuya, and Choe 1998; Oppenheimer 1988; 1994; Sweeny 2002; Tsuya and Bumpass 2004), but they also partly explain the emergence of below-replacement birth rates as couples delay childbearing as well (Lesthaeghe 2010). China's experience with marriage and family formation in the past several decades parallels that found elsewhere, but in China the trajectory has been more volatile and the sources of change have been unique to its social and political setup. In China, age at first marriage rose steadily between 1950 and 1979, but then fell after 1980 and only swung upward again after 1990. To explain China's distinctive path to late marraige, this chapter identifies two underlying forces, which sometimes operated in concert and at other times appeared to be in opposition: state intervention and individual choice. During the first phase, between 1950 and 1979, marriage age rose in response more to state intervention that to individual desire. The initial shift to later age of marraige was an integral part of a CCP campaign to create a new form of modern marriage that would liberate young men and women from the control of older family members, but at the same time it was part of a systematic effort to reinstitutionalize marriage around state rules and priorities. By contrast, the shift upward after 1990 followed from a new state orientation that granted individuals more latitude in deciding their personal life, includign when and whether to marry. Rising marriage age in recent decades therefore is more directly linked to individual volition and choice than to explicit state policies.

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Cai, Yong
Feng, Wang