An article in Sunday’s Global Times suggested that divorce rates were increasing in cross-national marriages in China due to “cultural differences, conflicts on how to raise their children, extramarital affairs and long-term separation caused by work or visa problems.” The article has prompted debate within Beijing’s international community, but do the facts support the headline?
The article quotes (but does not link to) a piece on cankaoxiaoxi.com which states that cross-national marriages are increasing by 1,000 a year in Beijing; but neither article gives an absolute figure, so we’re not told how many actual marriages this represents. We are told, though, how many divorces take place in these marriages: “173 cases in 2013, 203 cases in 2014 and 254 cases in 2015.”
If we assume that there were 1000 cross-national marriages in 2013, 2000 in 2014, and 3000 in 2015, then the divorce rate has actually more than halved, from 17.3 percent to 8.5 percent. Since it’s certain we didn’t start from zero cross-national marriages in 2012, then the decline is less dramatic, but the actual rate is even lower.
Compare this to the general divorce rate in Beijing – a staggering 39 percent – and you may start to wonder what’s going on. Global Times comes up with a 20 percent figure for cross-national divorces in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, in the first half of 2013, but the oddly specific nature of the statistic leads inevitably to the suspicion that it’s something of an outlier. And it’s still lower than the overall US divorce rate of around 25 percent.
Bereft of convincing statistical evidence, the article leans heavily on anecdotes. “When 33-year-old Ellen Chen decided to marry a Chilean man one month after meeting him, she had no idea that they would divorce four months later,” is a paraphrase of one such story. Well, perhaps she didn’t, but other people might have seen it coming, particularly when they discover that he had lied to her about his previous marriages and children. I would suggest to Ms. Chen, and to the writer of the article, that cultural differences may not have been the main problem there.
The other story, describing the break-up of a 30-year marriage between an American man and a Korean woman, is sad, but it seems odd that they managed to overcome their cultural differences for so long before the marriage eventually failed. A cynic, on reading that the American concerned “is now dating a Chinese woman”, might question whether we’re being told the whole story.
In short, there is no real evidence that cross-national marriages are more likely to fail, or that the divorce rate is increasing. What is certain, though, is that divorce rates in China are increasing, and that the marriage rate is falling, due to gender imbalance and the increasing independence of Chinese women. Might it be these anxieties which really lie behind Global Times’ eyecatching headline?
Photo: Jesslee Cuizon via Wikimedia Commons