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How Shanghai’s 1980s generation views love, marriage
By Tan Weiyun

HOW important does the role of a flat or a car play in a marriage? Has it been a trend in China for women to date younger men? When is the best time to shack up with your date before marriage?

A recent poll conducted among people born in the 1980s about love and marriage, released by the Fudan University Institute of Social Research Center, has triggered an extensive discussion.

The face-to-face research done among Shanghai’s 80 communities, covering 3,311 people, took more than six months. It is considered a professional, authoritative survey that offers a legitimate glimpse of Shanghai young generation’s views on love and marriage.

Among the people surveyed, 53.8 percent are married, 44.4 percent are single and 1.24 percent are divorced. A smattering of others are either estranged or widowed.

The research seems to bear out an old Chinese saying that “a wife three years older is with a gold brick” because when the husband is three to four years younger than his wife, the marriage satisfaction scores the highest. When the husband is seven years older than his wife, the satisfaction is the lowest.

“It makes sense. The 1980s generation is mostly one child in the family and many men are ‘mommy’s boys,’ who need someone to look after them,” says Fudan University sociologist Gu Xiaoming. “On the other hand, if a wife is too young, she might need a ‘father figure’ first in the marriage, but after she grows up and her husband is old, she probably wants more. These cases are often heard.”

The survey also proves the country's long-held tradition of assortative mating. Among couples polled, 70 percent come from the same place or have the same hukou (registered permanent residence).

The association with education is even stronger, as nearly 93 percent have the same or similar educational backgrounds. The survey also points out that the more education people have, the happier they are. In addition, this group is more likely to trust strangers.

“Well, I don’t think so,” says Gu. “Happiness has nothing to do with money, education or anything else. Don’t categorize people — rich, poor, well-educated or illiterate. It means nothing.

“What is happiness? I tell you, when you stop thinking about it and when you don’t even realize it, you are the happiest,” he adds.

Well-educated people are more open-minded about money and consumption, the survey shows. They have a lower tendency to save money, while they are strong supporters of overdrawing their credit cards.

Cathy Chen, 33, who furthered her study in Japan and works for a Japanese advertising company in Shanghai, admits that she lacks the habit of saving money.

“I use up almost all of my salary every month,” she tells Shanghai Daily. “I know I can earn it back the next month.”

The mother of a 2-year-old girl adds that she has bought various types of insurance for her family. “So I don’t think I need to worry about money,” she says.

“Traditional yet romantic” is how Chen Binbin, a teacher in Fudan’s psychology department, defines the 1980s generation.

The research shows that 43 percent have lived together before marriage, and almost 70 percent of them shacked up within one year of meeting.

However, this does not necessarily indicate open-mindedness about sex among the 1980s generation, because 60 percent of cohabitants have been engaged and another 34.5 percent have clear plans to get married.

The survey also reveals that the longer the couple lives together before marriage, the happier their marriage is likely to be.

Those who lived together for more than 18 months before marriage scored 4.6 out of 5 on marriage satisfaction.

As for “naked marriage” (no flat, no private car, no engagement rings, no weddings), the 1980s generation holds a very traditional view. Only 5 percent said they can accept it.

But the research also flies in the face of many people’s opinions toward Shanghai women, who said the three things they want most in an ideal husband are a healthy life habit, personality and intelligence — not money.

Men agreed on the top three, as both sexes put an “attractive appearance” farther down the list.

The least both genders care about when choosing a life partner are blood types, constellations, birthday horoscopes and political backgrounds.

Some of the Shanghai survey’s results contradict a poll taken last month among more than 70,000 people around China’s 34 provinces and autonomous regions by baihe.com, one of China’s leading matchmaking websites.

According to that survey, almost 72 percent of women think a flat/house is necessary to the marriage and 17.8 percent also require their future husbands to have a car.

Interestingly, one third of women polled in the nationwide survey said Chinese men are not as good as women because of their lack of self-reliance and proper cultivation. Just 5.5 percent of men agreed.

“I pay my respect to Chinese women and they are really fantastic and better than Chinese men,” Shanghai sociologist Gu says. “When you look back at Chinese history, you can find women often outdid men. It’s true and widely acknowledged.

“Today, women can better handle their families and work than men. But I have to say love and marriage is a very complicated issue, and we’d better not compete them each other in a marriage.”

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