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Lovebirds separate when the going gets rough

By Tiffany Tan | China Daily | Updated: 2013-07-08 10:36

Social changes in China in the past several decades mean couples have to make more effort to stay married for life.

Besides people's growing wealth, changes in sexual norms and looser divorce laws, another factor influencing marital breakdowns is the rise of smaller nuclear families, say researchers.

"In the past, many couples stayed together for the benefit of their children," says Wei-jun Jean Yeung, a sociology professor at the National University of Singapore, whose research includes transformations within Chinese families.

"Nowadays, many couples have none or one or much fewer children than before," so the physical and emotional ties binding the couple are no longer as strong.

Previously, with more offspring, by the time all the children are grown up, husbands and wives are also much older. "You won't be as willing to take risks and are not as able to start over," says Regina Ho, a marriage counselor with Oasis International Hospital in Beijing.

China's divorce rate of 2.3 percent, based on official 2012 figures, is nowhere in the top 10 internationally, but the growing cases of failed marriages is making people assess the reasons.

Greater internal migration in pursuit of jobs has also made relationships more fragile. From 1990 to 2005, according to a survey by Kam Wing Chan of the University of Washington, China saw 80 million people streaming in and out of its provinces. Additional movement takes place within provincial boundaries.

"In the socialist era, people were really nailed to a place. You were stuck with the neighbors you had, as well as the spouse you had," Deborah Davis, a sociology professor at Yale University, who studies contemporary Chinese society, says in an interview with Yale's MacMillan Center.

"Now, people find their partners usually without very much direct supervision from their parents if they're on the move. It also means if it's a bad relationship, it's a bad marriage, people are much freer to leave and start again."