In a survey released by the Civil Affairs Ministry of China on January 4, more than 80% of single women interviewed believed that a man “does not deserve” to be in a romantic relationship if he makes less than RMB4,000 (around US$650) a month. Almost 50% believed that a man needs to shoulder the full cost of an apartment (or at least the down payment) before he is eligible to marry. That’s bad news for millions of “bare branches,” a Chinese term for bachelors, since the national average income of urban residents in China was only about RMB1,750 (around US$300) in 2010.
The predictable handwringing over “ever declining social mores” filled China’s blogosphere, with over 10 million tweets alone discussing this topic on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter. While many wondered where the love went, thousands of young people scoffed at the survey for lowballing the bottom line. “You mean US$4,000, right?” asked a female advertising manager.
Another woman was even blunter: “Isn’t marriage the point of a relationship, and children the point of marriage? Raising children costs money. With high price levels and lots of living pressure, how is RMB4,000 [expletive] enough? In any case my boyfriend’s income must be at least 1.5 times mine.” It is surely a sign of the times that she writes romance novels for a living.
The real culprit behind Cupid’s apparent demise is skyrocketing housing costs and living expenses in major Chinese cities. “European prices and African salaries” is the depressing reality for many an aspiring Romeo. One prominent blogger broke down the costs for his readers: “For one date, a casual meal for two costs RMB300 or so, a movie for two costs RMB100, and taxi rides cost RMB60. That’s RMB460 without getting flowers or gifts. If the girl happens to fancy a leather jacket, that’s a few months’ salary.”
Matters get even more complicated, and costly, as the relationship progresses. The expectation of real property as a de facto bridal price, already hotly contested, was further pushed to the fore by a new interpretation of China’s Marriage Law issued in 2011. That law now excludes homes purchased by one spouse before marriage from the definition of “marital property” that comes up for grabs when couples part ways.
The interpretation was intended to return China to the halcyon days when lovebirds did not marry for brick and stone, but it has had the opposite effect. The same survey shows that at least 40% of women now expect their intended to put the woman’s name on the title deed before marriage, citing poor legal protection for women upon divorce (for example, China does not have a reliable system for garnishing men’s wages for child support after divorce). Unsurprisingly, about 40% of men reject the notion.
Amid this war of sexes, at least one microblogger kept his eyes on the ball: “I made 2,000 last month. Somebody hurry and find me half a girl!”