Cohabitation and marriage in China: past and present

Li Ma, Stockholm University
Ester L. Rizzi, Université Catholique de Louvain

Since 1978, China has gone through a series of economic reforms, developing into one of the world’s leading economies. Education expansion and the series of population policies have accompanied the country’s economic achievements. These socio-economic and institutional changes have accordingly affected various aspects of individual’s life, among which the delay and decline of marriage and the rise in cohabitation are rather pronounced. However, existing research on cohabitation and marriage in China more often concentrates on the economic reform period after 1978 and addresses cohabitation or marriage exclusively. This study provides a more comprehensive view of family formation in Chinese society by spanning the observation period to seven decades, covering both the pre- and the post-economic reform periods, and marks the first time in literature the link of cohabitation and marriage entry by applying event-history analysis to longitudinal data - China Family and Panel Studies. We aim to demonstrate the over-time trend variation of marriage and the contribution of cohabitation to this outcome. Our results show that over the past seven decades, marriage rate reduction occurred among women and men in both rural and urban areas. The decline was especially conspicuous with rural men. Further, the trends developed in tandem with marriage policy and other socio-economic changes. Marriage preluded with cohabitation, which was almost non-existing in the 1940s-1970s, started merging in the 1980s and gained pervasiveness in the 2000s. It has become a modal pathway to marriage, either as a preparatory stage of marriage or as a trial period of family life.

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Presented in Session 118: Union formation and singlehood