A Comparison of Divorce Risk Models in China and the United States1

By Xu, Anqi; Zhang, Yuanting et al. | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, March 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

A Comparison of Divorce Risk Models in China and the United States1


Xu, Anqi, Zhang, Yuanting, Amato, Paul R., Journal of Comparative Family Studies


INTRODUCTION

Divorce has become more common in China since the 1980s, with the crude divorce rate (number of dovorces per 1,000 population) growing from 0.35 in 1980 to 1.71 in 2008 (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2009). In Shanghai-China's largest city, the crude divorce rate was 2.8 in 2008 (National Bureau of Statistics cf Onina, 2009). Divorce rates are especially high in northeast urban China and in the Xinjiarrg Uyghur Autonomous Region-a minority region where Islam is widely practiced (Xu and Ye, 2002).

Divorce has been viewed as destructive to social stability in China, and beliefs such as "breaking a marriage is worse than destroying ten temples" have a long history. However, from the 1550 Marriage Law to the more recent relaxation of marriage and divorce registration regulations, legal barriers to divorce have weakened. Correspondingly, the firm grip ever peeple's private lives from the workplace and the city neighborhood committee has loosened (Xu and Ye, 2002). With economic reforms and improvements in living standards, the Chinese are experiencing a shift from collectivism to individualism, with greater tolerance of premarital sex, non-marital cohabitation, and divorce (Quach and Anderson, 2008). As a result, an increasing number of Chinese are seeking personal fulfillment through high quality marriages.

Despite these changes, the Chinese government continues to emphasize the importance of marital stability for a harmonious society (Tan, 2008). Parish and Whyte (1978) argued that Chinese marriages tend to be stable because couples emphasize compatibility rather than the fragile ideal cf romantic love. Similarly, Xu and Ye (1999) found that most Chinese couples enjoyed high levels of cohesiveness without viewing romantic love as the foundation of their marriages. Given the difference between cultures, it is of interest to assess whether the correlates of marital happiness and divorce risk are similar in China and the United States-the country with the highest divorce rate in the western world. To our knowledge, the current study is the first to address this goal.

We focus on Shanghai, which usually leads other areas of China in displaying social changes. Shanghai's colonial past synbolized western domination but also contributed to its unique culture with a mixture of both eastern and western elements. Due to the economic, social, and cultural disparities between inland and coastal China, as well as between urban and rural China (Xu and Ye, 1999), we use urban Shanghai and its nearby rural areas as a window for comparison with the U.S. Shanghai is at the forefront of China's industrialization and urbanization process, which makes it more comparable with the U.S. than other parts of China.

METHOD

We compared data collected in Shanghai from 2007 to 2008 with U.S. data from the 2000 Marriage and Family Life Survey (MFLS). The Chinese Family Values study used a multistage stratified sampling method and resulted in interviews with 1,106 couples in Shanghai and 1,000 couples in Lanzhou of the Gansu province. For more effective comparisons, we only used the data collected in Shanghai. Data were collected during home visits by 42 trained interviewers. The family neuter with the closest birthday to July 1 was selected to be interviewed. The response rate for the Shanghai data was 73%. The 2000 MEIS is a nationally representative sample of 2,100 married individuals in the United States (excluding Hawaii and Alaska). The survey was conducted via telephone, and the husband or wife was randomly selected to be the respondent. The response rate was 65% (Arato, Johnson, Booth and Rogers, 2003).

The key variables included divorce risk and marital happiness. Divorce Risk was measured with three questions in the U.S. survey: "In the last three years (or since you were married for people married for less than three years), have you ever thought that your marriage might be in trouble? …

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