Edited by Xiaowei Zang and Lucy X. Zhao
Chapter 26: The marriage institution in Hong Kong: past and present
Chapter 26 argues that the family played a crucial role in buffering risks and social problems that came with social transformation in Hong Kong. The utilitarianistic aspect of traditional familism was emphasized in the course of Hong Kong’s industrialization, helping families to consolidate resources to cope with market uncertainties. Equally important, the British colonial government had little intention of altering the Chinese way of life other than by maintaining law and order in the territory, helping Hong Kong to preserve much of its cultural heritage. Thus, although Western values and lifestyles have been introduced to Hong Kong, some traditional Chinese customs have persisted. This chapter then traces marriage statistics back to the reconstruction period immediately after World War II, in an attempt to establish a long-term view on marriage behavior since 1945. Next, it shows that the demographic factor has only a marginal effect on marriage timing. Poverty resulted in deferred marriage plans, and raised unmarried rates, particularly among men because of their breadwinner role, in pre-industrialized Hong Kong. However, prosperity since the 1990s did not lead to early marriage and lower unmarried rates, suggesting that income is not the only major factor at play. Higher expectations on wedding arrangements and accommodation after marriage do not adequately explain the recent surge in unmarried rates, as materialistic demands may delay but not deter marriage. The expansion of education, particularly at the tertiary level, may lead to the postponement of marriage, but it is also possible that the high unmarried rates may indicate greater difficulties for educated women to find a matching partner because of the persistence of hypergamy. Career ambition among young women may not explain the high unmarried rates since the millennium, because there were simply not enough high-paying jobs for women before the 1990s to distract them from pursuing a marriage and ending up being single in their late forties.
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