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CHAPTER 3 MARRIAGE IN CHINA SINCE 1950 The 1/1,000-sample survey conducted in 1982 by the Ministry of Family Planning collected retrospective data on marriages as well as on births. The report of the survey includes tables listing rates of first marriage by single years of age (the number of first marriages in a single-year age interval relative to the number of women in the interval) for each calendar year from 1949 to 1981. It also provides the calculated mean age at first marriage and the total first marriage rate for each year from 1940 to 1982 (Zhao and Yu, 1983). The total first-marriage rate for a given year is the sum of the single-year age-specific rates of first marriage. It equals the proportion that would ever marry in a hypothetical cohort subject to the marriage rates of the year in question. PROPORTION EVER-MARRIED WOMEN AND THE FIRST-MARRIAGE RATE Actual cohorts of women in China achieve very close to 100 percent entry into marriage, as is evident in the proportion of women ever married by single years of age in 1982--more than 98 percent at ages 29 and 30 and more than 99 percent at every age over 30. The annual total rate of first marriage has nevertheless differed from unity in most years, often substantially. It reached a low of .74 in 1959, during the Great Leap Forward, a high of 1.19 in 1962, as the economy and society recovered from the Great Leap Forward and the "bitter years" of 1960-61; and fell again to .71 and .73 in 1965 and 1966, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution (see Figure 9). The lowest point of .64 was reached in 1973, in the midst of a rapid rise in the mean age at first marriage. From 39
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40 l.5r 1.4 1.3 J 1.2 1.1 _, 1.0 6 0.9 A: 0.8 _ q6 0-7 - o 0.6 _ 0.5 1950 r L A ~ , \ A 1 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 YEAR FIGURE 9 Total Female First-Marriage Rate (sum of first marriage frequencies), 1950-82: China 1971 to 1979, while mean age at first marriage was increasing from 20.29 to 23.05--an addition of almost one-third of a year each year--the total first-marriage rate was below 1.0 despite the ultimate achievement of nearly 100 percent ever married within each cohort. In 1980 the total first-marriage rate reached 1.14, higher than in any previous year except 1962; in 1981 and the first 6 months of 1982 it rose to a new high above 1.30, a boom in marriages that caused increased births in 1981 and 1982 and will have a continued upward effect on births in 1983. There are two reasons for differences from unity in the annual total first-marriage rate even when every cohort experiences a proportion ever married very close to 100 percent. One reason is a temporary deficit in the number of marriages in years when social disruption prevents marriages that otherwise would occur and an excess in the number of marriages in the period of recovery from such episodes (for example, the deficit in 1959 and the excess in 1962). The second reason for high or low total rates of first marriage is a change in the mean age at which cohorts marry. When the mean age at marriage of a cohort falls, the total marriage rate rises above 1.0 because the marriages of older and younger
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41 women, which would have occurred sequentially with constant mean age, overlap. The total rate continues higher than 1.0 as long as mean age at marriage continues to fall. A rising mean age at marriage has the opposite effect, thinning out the occurrence of marriage until the rise in mean age ceases. The average value of 0.885 of the total marriage rate from 1950 to 1982 (despite the continuation of virtually universal marriage) is the result of the increase in mean age at marriage of about 4 years during this time. According to a formula of Norman Ryder (1956), a period total first-marriage rate is reduced in proportion to the average annual rate of change of cohort age at marriage. An increase of 4 years in 32 years should reduce the average period total first-marriage rate by about 0.125, or to about 0.875-- very close to the actual average value of 0.885 for the 32 years in question. MEAN AGE AT FIRST MARRIAGE Figure 10 shows the annual value of the mean age at first marriage from 1950 to the first half of 1982. The mean age at first marriage calculated for the decade of the 1940s is little different from the mean for 1950 (18.46 compared with 18.68), but was a year higher than the average (17.52) for the Chinese farm population in 1929-31 (Barclay et al., 1976). The increase in mean age was relatively gradual in the 1950s and 1960s and relatively rapid in the 1970s. The revolutionary government set a legal minimum marriage age of 18 years and introduced many changes in social organization that reduced the incidence of very early marriage. In 1953 nearly 43 percent of women were married before reaching 18; by 1965 this fraction had fallen to about 21 percent; at the beginning of 1982, only 4 percent had married before reaching 18. The mean age at marriage rose sharply after 1970: in the 8 years from 1971 to 1979 the increase was twice what the increase had been in the 21 years from 1950 to 1971. The rise in age at marriage in the 1970s was certainly enhanced, if not altogether produced, by government pressure as part of the program to reduce the birth rate. The official policy was later marriage, longer birth intervals, and fewer children. Women were encouraged to postpone marriage until age 23 in the rural areas and until age 25 in the cities. From 1971 to 1979
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25 24 7 42 23 22 UJ a UJ 21 on 18 17 - 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 YEAR FIGURE 10 Mean Age at First Marriage of Females, 1950-82: China the reduction in the proportion of women who had ever married before reaching age 24 was large in the rural areas and dramatic in the cities: from 89 to 76 percent in the rural population and from 68 to 20 percent in the urban population. PATTERNS OF MARRIAGE By cumulation of age-specific first-marriage rates, the proportion of women ever married at each age can be calculated for each cohort: that proportion is shown for selected female cohorts in Figure 11 (see Table A-4 for data for all years). From the cohort reaching age 15 in l9SO to the cohort reaching 15 in 1965, the curves showing age of attaining successively greater proportions of ever-married women moves to the right--to higher ages--with each cohort, ultimately reaching nearly 100 percent. The cohort reaching age 15 in 1970 has a relatively slow start in entering marriage, reaching 50 percent ever married at an age 2 1/2 years later than the attainment of 50 percent by the cohort only 5 years older (age 15 in 1965). However, the younger cohort made up for its slow early entry into marriage and by age 26 had
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43 1.00 C) 0.90 UJ CC a: LL > By o - G o o 0.80 0.70 0.60 0.50 0.40 0.30 0.20 0.10 ~9~.-~- ·. ,<0 I:---- .. / .- ;~ -~.e O 10 15 1 1 1 20 25 30 35 AGE FIGURE 11 Proportion of Ever-Married Women, by Single Years of Age, Cohorts Aged 15 in 1950, 1960, 1965, 1970, and 1973: China surpassed the proportion married that had been achieved at the same age by the older cohort. Those reaching 15 in 1973 were even slower than the 1970 cohort in entering marriage at early ages and then quickened the pace so as to surpass older cohorts--by about age 24 for the cohort 15 in 1965 and by age 23 for the cohort 15 in 1970. In Figure 12 the curves showing cumulative entry into marriage for selected female cohorts are compared with a standard curve of cumulative first marriage. The standard curve is a mathematical function of age that with suitable choice of constants fits the marriage experience of many quite different populations. The standard distribution--an asymmetrical curve skewed to the right--fits different experiences, ranging from early-marrying to late-marrying cohorts, if the appro- priate starting age (or, alternatively, the proper mean age) and the proper pace of marriage (or the proper standard deviation) is chosen. (The proportion ultimately marrying must also be specified, but in China this proportion can be estimated to a good approximation as 100 percent [Coale, 1971; Coale and McNeil, 1972]). In Figure 12, the standard curve of the proportion of ever-married women is fitted to the experience of each
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44 LL - cr LL 111 a o - o o /~/ . . Get 1 1 1 1 10 15 20 25 . . . 30 35 AGE FIGURE 12 Proportion of Ever-Married Women, Cohorts Aged 15 in 1950, 1960, 1965, 1970, and 1973 (solid lines), and Standard Curves Fitted to Ages 16.5 and 20.5 (dotted lines): China cohort by choosing two parameters (of location and spread) that forces the standard curve to pass through the cohort's recorded proportion ever married at ages 16.5 and 20.5. For cohorts reaching age 15 in 195D, 1960, and 1965, the nuptiality experience past age 20 is fitted very well indeed by the standard curves forced to pass through these early points in the cohort's entry into marriage. Those reaching 15 in 1970 also follow a standard curve fitted to the proportion ever married at 16.5 and 20.5, but only up to age 22; at higher ages the standard curve fitted to these early points rises too slowly--or, more realistically, above age 22 the cohort accelerates its entry into marriage above the slow pace it had followed up to age 22. The cohort of women aged IS in 1973 departs still earlier and more steeply from the very slow pace of marriage it followed up to age 20. The existence of a standard frequency distribution of first marriages has a behavioral explanation: it is generated by a normal (Gaussian) distribution of attaining an age considered as marriageable, followed by exponential distributions of the duration of three intermediate stages--the search for the ultimate spouse, the interval
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45 between finding the spouse and engagement, and between engagement and marriage (Coale and McNeil, 1972). When age at marriage is governed by accepted social norms and gradually evolving conditions, the standard distribution seems to fit very well. In the 1970s the intensified program to reduce the birth rate included later marriage as an important component. The legal minimum of age at marriage was not increased (from the 18 years for women set in the marriage law of 1950); however, permission to marry had to be obtained from the administrative head of the work units of bride and groom, and a late marriage rate (the proportion of marriages of women older than 23 in rural areas and older than 25 in cities) was one of the aims imposed by the new population policies (Tien, 1983). Restrictions that slowed down entry into marriage for women under age 23 led to more rapid entry into marriage for women after that age: for example, see the comparison of the 15-in-1970 cohort with the fitted standard in Figure 12. In 1980 a new marriage law was passed that increased the legal minimum marriage age for women from 18 to 20. The passage of the new law was reportedly accompanied by a relaxation of the measures that enforced later marriage because of the social problems created by postponing marriage past age 23 in a society in which women are traditionally married soon after menarche and in which sexual relations among unmarried people are not socially acceptable. The new law was accompanied by a marriage boom: the total first-marriage rate for women rose from .922 in 1979 to 1.137 in 1980, 1.303 in 1981, and 1.314 in the first half of 1982; mean age at first marriage fell from 23.1 in 1979 to 22.7 in the first half of 1982. The departure of recent cohorts from standard curves of age at marriage may be the result, then, of government action that artificially reduced rates of first marriage at early ages and led to artificially high rates at later ages, when the pressure was off. The relaxation of pressure against marriages at ages under 23 led to a marriage boom. The effects of these marriage patterns on fertility are explored in the next chapter.
Representative terms from entire chapter: