Handbooks of Research on Contemporary China series
Edited by Yingjie Guo
Chapter 6: Women’s social mobility in China: marriage and class
Sorokin (1927: 179) believed that marriage could be a means of social mobility through which one of the parties moves upward or downward. Through marriage, status, rank and class difference in the system of social reproduction can be passed on from one generation to another (Ebrey 1991: 5). Although the social mobility of both men and women can be affected by their marriages, women are more likely to achieve their mobility through marriage, and their class is often defined by their husbands’ class and less attached to their social origin (Rossi 1971: 110; Chase 1975; Heath 1981: 114); hence, the relationship of origin to destination among women is weaker (Glenn et al. 1974). This is especially the case in China, which has a long tradition of patriarchy and rigid class divides. In particular, in the Mao era ‘the class radicalism’ (see the Introduction to this handbook) made the mobility between occupational classes really difficult or even impossible. Apart from social mobility as a result of higher education, service in the military or formal employment in SOEs, which was usually more accessible to men, cross-class marriage provides women with rare opportunities to achieve social mobility. Although the Chinese tradition advocates marriage of two persons of equal social status (mendang hudui), cross-class marriage is not uncommon in contemporary China owing to the limited channels of mobility and common social closure.
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