Mainland's soaring divorce rate spurs speculation on causes

Mainland abuzz with theories that money rows due to high flat costs are causing break-ups

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2012, 3:45pm

Experts have blamed the mainland's soaring divorce rate on everything from a more open society to a more prosperous economy. But another potential cause has caught the public's imagination - sky-high home prices.

The state-run media and internet forums have been buzzing with theories and statistics attempting to tie the increase in failed marriages to the rising cost of housing on the mainland.

The logic holds that higher property prices devour more of a couple's disposable income, causing more squabbles, according to a report on the theory in the Modern Express of Jiangsu .

Sociologists and marriage experts are sceptical. They say there is no clear link between the two trends, even if the pressure to purchase a home does play a role in many marital woes.

"There are various causes for divorce," said Wu Changzhen , a marriage law professor at the Chinese University of Political Science and Law. "A couple engaging in frequent quarrels over housing issues does not have a firm standing love."

Wu said the real problem was that people no longer regarded a divorce as exceptional and were too casual about marriage.

But the theory's popularity may nonetheless highlight a growing sense of anxiety among young mainlanders as they attempt to meet traditional societal expectations despite the fast-rising cost of living.

Nearly 2.87 million mainland couples divorced last year, up 7.3 per cent from 2010, according to Ministry of Civil Affairs' statistics.

The rate coincides with a massive boom in property prices across the mainland, where many view home-ownership as a prerequisite for marriage.

A survey conducted by the ministry last year showed that 70 per cent of mainland women would only tie the knot with a man who owned at least one flat, China Youth Daily said.

A Shanghai developer even attempted to capitalise on the concern in an advertisement in the paper. "Marrying a woman without buying her an apartment is a hooligan act," it said.

One internet user in Shanghai noted that the city's average housing prices surged to 25,778 yuan (HK$31,540) per square metre last year - up from 10,574 yuan in 2009, an increase that parallels the rise in the local divorce rate, according to the Modern Express.

Of 1,028 respondents to a poll on the state television news portal yesterday, 90 per cent said owning a house was crucial to maintaining a marriage, compared with 10 per cent who said love was most important.

But Xu Anqi , a sociologist at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, cautioned against drawing any conclusions from the statistics. "The gross domestic product is growing and so is the population," Xu said. "So, can we say that the greater the GDP, the higher the divorce rate? The more population, the higher the divorce rate?"