Thursday, April 07, 2016

The slowly growing marriage "crisis" in Taiwan

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My good friend Eva, one of Taiwan's many attractive, accomplished unmarried 30-somethings.

Apple Daily ran a short piece on stats from the Ministry of Interior on marriage in Taiwan, noting that the reason for the falling rate of marriage, which matches Taiwan's falling birth rates, is commonly known as "2 Low 4 High"...
根據《好房網》報導,截至2014年底為止,內政部統計30至34歲人口有將近5成未婚,25至29歲的未婚比例更高達8成。統整出結果後發現,就是這以下「2低4高」的因素讓七年級生、甚至八年級生遲遲不敢成家生子。

According to a report from HouseFun News, as of the end of 2014, statistics from the Ministry of the Interior showed that 50% of those aged 30-34 remain unmarried, while for the 25-29 group the figure was 80%. Overall statistics show that the "2 Low, 4 High" keep those born in the 80s and 90s from forming a family and having children.
The two lows are the low salaries and low social welfare benefits for having children. The four highs are long work hours, high cost of children, high price of housing, and the high hidden costs (such as the health effects on the woman). Housing is an especial obstacle since custom requires that the man have purchased a house.

To which I would add that many females aren't getting married because of social factors not included here. Intelligent and accomplished females have great trouble finding mates in most places, but in Taiwan especially, where there is a widespread preference among males for women less intelligent than they are. I bump into this problem again and again in my interactions with older male grad students: "Why don't you ask X out? She's good looking, and super smart." "She is too smart" comes the unvarying answer. Females, especially those living alone and employed, come to treasure their personal freedom and dread the terrible family obligations that local culture places on them -- weekends wasted visiting the in-laws, the necessary service to the mother-in-law, the fulfilling of expected roles and behaviors on a constant basis. Consequently many choose to remain unmarried. Males can live with mom without stigma. Society also has become more relaxed about couples living together and about homosexuality.

Recall too that at the bottom of the social pyramid, many Taiwanese working class females can't find husbands because those men have imported a wife from China or Vietnam. Our picture of the single woman as a self-aware independent unmarried Taipei office girl is unrepresentative. There is also a group of females who are kept home to take care of mom and dad and who are told that marriage would be leaving the family and thus, betraying it. I have met several such females, and I suspect the pressure must be subtle and widespread.

As people enter their 30s their friends start going through divorces, and their picture of marriage becomes less and less positive. Why get married?
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20 comments:

Jenna Cody said...

Yup, as I wrote ages ago, a lot of the time it's also just knowing your would-be husband isn't likely to support you in a disagreement with your mother-in-law - basically you don't necessarily get to decide important things in your life, and the person you do get to decide them for is your own child...but that's not the same as getting to live your life as you want it rather than placing your hopes on your kid as your parents did to you.

And knowing that if you do find someone who isn't turned off by intelligence (I actually do know quite a few Taiwanese men who have no problem at all with super-intelligent women), that you have to then go through the double-and-triple gates of looking for someone who *not only* has no problem with you being highly intelligent, but also who respects your own ambitions and won't feel entitled to make decisions by fiat for the family, expect your goals to take second fiddle to his career, or expect you to take on the majority of housework and child-rearing regardless of your job.

These men do exist. Even in Taiwan! One of my best local friends is a straight up feminist Taiwanese man. And one of my students - a female psychiatrist - is married to a man who is willing to stand up to his parents for her and agrees with her about remaining child-free (though apparently he's not so great at housework and cooking). But I can see how a lot of women find it tough to find such men.

Trust me, that's not only a problem in Taiwan! If I hadn't met Brendan I might still be single.

Amberstien said...

hi. I think in the translation the years of birth should be converted from "ming guo" to 80s and 90s.

Please Read and Delete

Formosa Coweater said...

100% agree with these observations. It seems this desire to have a less educated and younger wife that is perceived to be more able to be controlled by the husband is a phenomenon that, although found around the world, is more common in countries in Asia. It's my observation, anyway.

Loved your comments about wasting time with the in-laws on the weekend. Ouch! But so true...

blobOfNeurons said...

I bump into this problem again and again in my interactions with older male grad students: "Why don't you ask X out? She's good looking, and super smart." "She is too smart" comes the unvarying answer.

You sure they aren't just trying to find a polite way to disagree with you on how good looking X really is?

Michael Turton said...

Thanks Amberstein, no wonder it seemed weird to me. forgot that...

Anonymous said...

In Taiwan, the foreign caregivers are increasingly taking over the traditional role of the daughter-in-law (aside from, but not entirely excepting the production of heirs). The foreign caregivers are often put under the thumb of the matriarch, taught to cook the right way, clean the right way, take on quasi-filial cities the right way.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it actually the other way around? From what I hear, Taiwanese women nowadays have exceptionally high standards. Due to the popularity of Korean soap operas, even 4s and 5s think they deserve a handsome conglomerate heir. That's why average guys look to other countries for mates.

Anonymous said...

Now-a-days it seems like most women are more interested in their cell phone than to interact socially with men.

Anonymous said...

I bet these statistics would correlate with how much weight women have been gaining over the last few decades!

Fortunately, they're now selling sex robots. (And you'll never guess which country makes them!)

Women evolved to be dominated by men--that's why they're shorter.

Maybe they should introduce a special visa category for foreigners who come to Taiwan to seduce local women...?

Brian Castle said...

Who are these men who are supposedly afraid of intelligent women? I have never heard a man say they didn't want to date someone because she was smart. They might be afraid to ask because they think her being smart puts her out of his league, but they do the same thing when girls are gorgeous.

Perhaps it's because most of my guy friends were very intelligent in terms of math/science and it was very rare to meet a girl in the same league with them intellectually, and almost unheard of to meet one in their league intellectually who was also good-looking?

I did marry a woman far more intelligent than me when it comes to the more important stuff - like remembering people's faces, knowing what not to say, how to mingle. I can get a job in a technical field, but she would be the one to move up the chain and become a manager.

It doesn't intimidate me, it makes us a good team and able to help each other out. We can both learn from each other.

Anonymous said...

Adultery ruins marriages and potentials of marriage worldwide. Non-marriage has got nothing to do with who a person is, but got more to do with what they did.

Jenna Cody said...

First, jesus, I'm surprised some of the stuff above didn't get moderated out ("I bet these statistics would correlate with how much weight women have been gaining over the last few decades! Fortunately, they're now selling sex robots. (And you'll never guess which country makes them!) Women evolved to be dominated by men--that's why they're shorter." - for serious? That made it through?).

Secondly, re: "Who are these men who are supposedly afraid of intelligent women? I have never heard a man say they didn't want to date someone because she was smart."

True...I think the issue is not so much whether she's 'smart' but whether she's 'smarter than him' (or he thinks she is). I have definitely come across this, not for me personally because before I was married I thought so little of guys who were put off by intelligence that if any did decide not to pursue me because of my perceived intelligence*, I wouldn't have noticed, or would have purposely avoided them if I did have such an inkling, but in simply being around while my female friends dated. There are a surprising number of guys who want a "smart but not smarter than him" girlfriend or wife.

Often this is not a conscious thing. I haven't met a guy who has actually expressed this (though I have also been told they do exist through first-person accounts) but I have seen friends date guys who just assumed that, as a MAN with a PENIS (OoooOOOOhhhh!) he was automatically smarter than any non-penis-having-people. When this was proven incorrect, it usually devolved into loss of face --> poor communication/passive aggressiveness --> fights --> distance --> breakup.

*I definitely have my moments of being not-so-bright so perhaps this is merely an illusion

Michael Turton said...

First, jesus, I'm surprised some of the stuff above didn't get moderated out ("I bet these statistics would correlate with how much weight women have been gaining over the last few decades! Fortunately, they're now selling sex robots. (And you'll never guess which country makes them!) Women evolved to be dominated by men--that's why they're shorter." - for serious? That made it through?).

If I moderated for stoopid, I'd be unable to comment on politics :)

B.BarNavi said...

I'll never understand the appeal of a woman "with less intelligence". Yes, it's out of a desire to subjugate, but even from uneducated peasant backgrounds, women aren't stupid, and what ends up happening is they gain leverage through other (often passive-aggressive) means, and the man desiring to be the dominant ends up being the dominated.
In the end, I'd rather have someone who can talk through issues intelligently on equal footing.
Also, China's dating/spouse market sucks.

Teresa said...

I don't think it's necessarily that men are afraid of smart women. It's more that women who perceive themselves as smart can be quite off-putting, as evident by the two Jenna comments above.

Eric said...

I remember reading an academic paper somewhere about dating and mating preferences—it was written by an evolutionary psychologist, I think—claiming that men seemed to prefer women who were nearly as smart but not quite as smart, and approximately equally physically attractive, and from approximately the same class, generally matching the man, but not exceeding him significantly in any category. There are plenty of social psychologists in a variety of cultures who have shown that men are in general a bit more status-conscious and hierarchy-aware. I think the theory was that if a woman was obviously more attractive, or more intelligent, or from a higher-status background, this would now all the man to feel comfortable, because men could feel comfortable in an equal or superior position to their wives, but not in an inferior position.

The data could just reflect a certain phase of modernity, and not be rooted in deep biological preferences (we don't have long-term trend studies of these mating preferences). Anyway, Taiwan is certainly going through a rapid improvement in the status of women, and according to this theory about men not wanting to be inferior in any category, that could cause a generation or two to stay away from marriage.

This interview offers some well-informed perspectives on the issue in America: http://www.npr.org/2016/03/01/468688887/single-by-choice-why-fewer-american-women-are-married-than-ever-before

Anonymous said...

I always thought the traditional arrangement was the woman was the brains and the man was the braun. Though, thats not the case in my relationship where she is both the smartest and the strongest. I wouldn't have it any other way, as she encourages me to be a better me.

Brian Castle said...

"Women evolved to be dominated by men--that's why they're shorter."

I probably shouldn't feed the troll, who likely won't see this anyway, but...

Women didn't evolve to be dominated by men; men evolved to be able to beat the sh*t out of each other in order to win the competition to mate with women. As a side effect men also acquired the ability to dominate women.

Anonymous said...

More often than not there seems to be a tacit acceptance in Taiwan that marriage is a generally dull set of circumstances, with "family love" replacing romantic love, and the passions replaced by spending your days and nights watching the TV or surfing the web in a numbed state of creature comfort. Lust for life, excitement, and the novelty and risks associated with a sexualised single life are traded in exchange for the socially-rewarded status-conferring banality of a predictable and safe home life.

Most of the time when I say to Taiwanese people that I don't want to be married because it's fundamentally boring as shit at its core and I don't want this brief life's hedonistic joys reduced to putting family vacation/ hot pot photos on FB to induce jealousy among my peers, the reply is "that's just the way life/marriage is". Marriage is something to be endured, not a life enhancement. Deal with it like everyone else has to.

If so, why sign up for that?

I just see the women here as smart enough to realise that marriage is flawed at its core and has outlived its usefulness as an institution. Even if they won't say it out loud for social or face saving reasons. Hats off to them.

Jenna Cody said...

"More often than not there seems to be a tacit acceptance in Taiwan that marriage is a generally dull set of circumstances, with "family love" replacing romantic love, and the passions replaced by spending your days and nights watching the TV or surfing the web in a numbed state of creature comfort. Lust for life, excitement, and the novelty and risks associated with a sexualised single life are traded in exchange for the socially-rewarded status-conferring banality of a predictable and safe home life"

Sure...but I'd say that that is not nearly limited to Taiwan. People know in the US also seem to think of marriage as the thing you do when, sure, you've found someone you love, at the right time when you want to buy a house and a car and move out of the city and have kids and a comfortable job with just too little paid vacation to really go anywhere, and you can socialize with people you already know, and maybe see them at church or shul every weekend.

I love my crew in all countries, but this does seem to be the norm. It's rare to meet a couple that doesn't fit this mold - my husband and I still basically act single in most ways except, obviously, dating (we still travel extensively, live in the city, don't have kids, never want to own a car, seek out interesting new things to to etc) but married couples stopping this for something cushier and more stable (and, to some, more boring) is absolutely not unique to Taiwan. It's not unique to anywhere in the developed world.