Along with the diversification and individuation of people’s life style, marital conflicts have become more and more frequent. Meanwhile, progress in material life and the improvement of medical care have prolonged life expectancy to a great extent. This has enabled the average life of a marriage to be longer than in any other period in history, thus increasing the risk of disintegration of a marriage in the late period of marriage life to some extent. This has also seemingly confirmed what Goode (1986) claims: the power of modernization will bring about tension in the marital relationship, but divorce may ease such tension. Therefore, marriage disintegration and remarriage are now regarded as one of the predictable consequences of the process of modernization in China. The data released by National Civil Affairs Department showed that the number of divorces was 3,500,000 in 2011, while it was 2,455,000 in 1990. With the number of divorces increasing, there has also been a significant rise in the number of remarriages. The Civil Affairs statistics report shows that while the number of remarriages in 1990 was only 722,400, it had increased to 2,811,000 in 2011 (Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs 2013). The issue of remarriage brought by the rapid growth in the number of divorces has become a hot topic among scholars and common people. Of course, scholars show concern about remarriage not only because of its large number, but also because of the great sociological importance behind the issue. Generally, marriage disintegration damages the family members’ welfare to some degree, but remarriage is an important approach to regaining happiness as a family. Remarriage can ensure that the family is complete and will extend the family line, and a complete family is beneficial to the healthy growth of the younger generation. In addition, remarriage can also help strengthen the efficiency of the household’s financial budget and expenditure. Therefore, the author believes that it is of great theoretical importance and practical value to conduct a study on the act of remarriage and its related factors during the period of social transition, starting from the standpoint of localization to determine the cultural logic that has an impact on the act of remarriage in China.
Based on the literature review and related theories concerning remarriage, the paper uses the method of Event History Analysis (EHA) to analyze the China Family Panel Studies (CFPS2010) data collected in the follow-up study of Chinese families and discuss how personal resources and family factors influence the individual act of remarriage from the perspectives of both individuals and families. Taking into account the uniqueness of the Chinese cultural situation, the paper makes a comparison, an interpretation, and a reflection on the act of Chinese remarriage and its influencing factors from the standpoint of localization.
Theoretical perspectives and hypotheses
Marriage market theories
The marriage market refers to the sum of male and female mate choices (Lamanna and Riedmann 1991). In fact, it is not a market in a strict sense, being quite different from a commodity market. Marriage market theories aim at elaborating on a certain potential relationship of the supply and demand of mate choice in a certain time and range (Chen 2004). The marriage market provides an important theoretical perspective for interpreting the act of marriage. However, since most marriage market theories are based on a first marriage, it is difficult for them to perfectly interpret the act of remarriage (Kalmijin 1998). There are at least three differences between the first marriage market and the remarriage market. The first is that, quite differently from those marrying for the first time, potential digamists facing the disintegration of marriage in the middle or late period of life have their own understanding of and choice in marriage (Shechtman 2005). The second is that the market for remarriage is smaller than that of first marriages, and therefore, whether or not potential digamists will successfully marry is closely related to the number of potential spouses in the remarriage market.Footnote 1 The third is that potential digamists lack an effective approach to getting into the marriage market, and as a result, the efficiency of the remarriage market is far from satisfactory. For example, those at the first marriage stage may have access to the marriage market by means of schooling, getting involved in volunteer associations, or taking part in public activities, among other things (Kalmijn 1994). In contrast, most digamists are either at the late stage of their youth or in the middle or late period of their life. For them, the period of formal education was over long ago, and they have a comparatively low degree of willingness to get involved in volunteer and public activities. As a result, they have far fewer opportunities to meet potential spouses (Wallerstein et al. 1995). Because of the various differences between the first marriage and remarriage, marriage market theory is restricted in its explanatory power in research on the act of remarriage. Nevertheless, what cannot be denied is that marriage market theories are still of great reference value to our understanding of the external constraint condition of marriage.
Remarriage is in fact a personal choice and is therefore another important research approach to studying the influencing factors of remarriage from an individual perspective. The microfactors influencing remarriage mainly include gender, age, income, education, profession, and minor children. Most empirical research centers on these factors.
The influence of education and income on remarriage
In many studies, education and income are regarded as two closely related factors; however, each one has independent importance in their function in remarriage.
In Western academic circles, a human being is generally considered an individual in the sense of economic rationality. When choosing spouses, people tend to weigh advantages and disadvantages and stay away from potential risks. Under such a presupposition, some influential marriage theories have come into being, of which Becker’s marriage theory “gains to trade” and Easterlin’s “relative income hypothesis” are two that have been influential. The former believes that in the marriage, market men and women reaching their marriageable age are potential marriage transaction partners; when the two sides can predict that they will both benefit from marriage, they will make the decision to marry (Becker 1981). However, since gender differences in social roles decide that women have to make a choice between domestic labor and the labor market, it is likely that when the expected economic income is high, women may choose to enter the labor market, resulting in a low rate of marriage. The latter, however, holds the view that men or women will not take marriage into consideration until they believe that their lowest life guarantee is ensured. They want to take such a life guarantee as a reference to what they could get when they were children taken care of by their parents (Easterlin 1978). In other words, those potential marriage partners with a better economic income are more likely to get married. This means that the advantage of economic income is helpful in increasing the probability of remarriage. Despite the fact that both theories are supported by quite a number of empirical studies, some scholars criticize the hypothesis as centering on purely economic factors considered by rational people. This is because the act of marriage cannot be rationally calculated like a commodity trade; moreover, some nonrational factors such as affect are also involved in marriage. Probably due to their consideration of these factors, Oppenheimer and Lew (Oppenheimer and Lew 1995) direct their attention to studies on the degree of marriage matching difficulty, pointing out that those with a high income may not necessarily marry quickly; on the contrary, they may put off their marriage because it takes more time for them to find a suitable spouse.
As with economic income, level of education has also received quite a lot of attention in empirical studies on remarriage; yet, to a great extent, it is different from the former in function. On the one hand, as a kind of human capital, education can help enrich personal resources so as to enhance personal attraction and promote the position of the individual in the marriage market; this is beneficial to those looking for a spouse (Wolf and Macdonald 1979; Yue et al. 2006). On the other hand, divorced people who are well educated are often restricted by the number of potential remarriage partners with the same level of education; this may result in a low probability of remarriage (Goldman et al. 1984). The negative effect of education on remarriage is reflected more noticeably in women’s remarriage decision making than in men’s. For example, based on the analysis of the figures of the national population census in 2000, Yang (2007) believes that while education gives men more chances to remarry, it has a negative effect on women’s remarriage. Although education helps enlarge the quantity of personal resources, it also helps individuals become more independent and reduces their reliance on marriage, thus lowering their willingness to remarry. Of course, there is another way of interpreting the phenomenon—well-educated women who want to have a second marriage are restricted by the number of potential remarriage partners with the same level of education in the marriage market, thus reducing the degree of probability of remarrying (Goldman et al. 1984). It is obvious that as a kind of resource, education can have opposite effects on individuals in their act of remarriage.
The mutual influence of employment and demographic factors
In studies on remarriage, the factor of employment is another variable that also receives a noticeable amount of attention in addition to the aspects of income and education. Due to the fact that there is a noticeable gender difference in the influence of employment on remarriage, the mutual influence of this difference and demographic factors is generally taken into account in the analysis of the effect of employment on remarriage.
Some studies claim that women usually have to make a choice between domestic labor and the job market; as a result, men tend to have a higher rate of remarriage than women.Footnote 2 This may result from individual rational choice or from the different requirements imposed by society on the different genders concerning their entrance into marriage. From the perspective of economic rationality, according to the present level of “quasi wages” there is a comparatively low degree of willingness for women to be engaged only in housework, whereas men are more likely to benefit from marriage. As a result, the remarriage rate among men is higher. This hypothesis has been supported by recent empirical studies (Shechtman 2005). In addition, the lower rate of remarriage among women may also be associated with society’s different requirements for men and women. For instance, there is a preference for younger women, but there is usually no such requirement for men. This is another reason for the difference in the remarriage rate between men and women (Shechtman, 2005).
When the factor of minor children is taken into account, a change occurs in the choice mechanism. After the disintegration of a marriage, the mother is the custodian of children in most cases, and therefore, the existence of minor children may lead to a change in decision making on remarriage. Relatedly, many studies find that individuals may find their conditions have worsened simply because of their minor children (Hampton 1975; Espenshade 1979). Women experience the pressures of child rearing; because of their lack of work experience, many are in a disadvantageous position in the job market and need to acquire financial support by means of remarriage. In this sense, child rearing is the driving force for women to remarry as soon as possible. However, some studies also point out that the factor of children may play a negative part in remarriage (Sweet 1973; Becker et al. 1977). First, if a man looking for a potential remarriage partner chooses a woman with children, he has to take the responsibility and pressure of child rearing into consideration. Second, women have to spend a significant amount of time and energy on child rearing and thus have fewer chances to contact potential remarriage partners; this definitely slows down the process of remarriage. As Graff (2003) state, in order to look after their children, women have to reduce the number of opportunities to join some public activities such as parties or physical exercises and therefore lose opportunities to find their potential spouse. In fact, taking part in public activities is one of the important ways of meeting members of the opposite sex (Wallerstein and Blakeslee 1989). Additionally, some researchers have also determined that an interactive function exists between the age of a remarriage partner and the state of whether the person has children. The data analysis of current population survey (CPS) in 1975 by Koo and Suchindran (1980) shows that whether the factor of children has an effect on remarriage is related to the age of the individual at the time that the disintegration of the first marriage occurs. Women under twenty-five with no children tend to remarry as soon as possible because they have a stronger desire to start a new family and produce the next generation (Lamped and Peggs 1999). In contrast, when women are above thirty-five and have no children, their remarriage chances are reduced. There is no difference found in this respect in the age group of remarried women between twenty-six and thirty-four. In short, the present studies show that age, minor children, and employment all have an impact on remarriage, but so far, there is no agreement in the conclusions of empirical studies.
The absence of the local perspective: research hypotheses
A number of marriage theories originating from Western academic circles have provided some enlightenment in understanding the act of Chinese remarriage. Nevertheless, if the research hypotheses for the review of Chinese people’s remarriage were based directly on Western theories, there could be some biases in the research; in addition to the fact that the practice of marriage is influenced by individuals’ rational choice, it has fundamental differences in different cultural situations. Moreover, China is a nation with thousands of years of an agricultural civilization, and its traditional culture is deeply rooted in marriage practices.Footnote 3 Therefore, the author believes that study on Chinese people’s remarriage must utilize a new interpretation that takes local culture into consideration, and uses related Western theories as a source of reference. In the following sections based on the standpoint of local culture, the research hypotheses are constructed by means of studying the differences in the influence of social factors on marriage in China and in the West.
The influence of families and clans
According to marriage market theories, gains-to-trade theories, and the relative income hypothesis, an individual is considered to be the main actor and the master of the fate of marriage. All these theories assume that a rational individual is able to decide whether he or she will remarry by balancing the advantages and disadvantages of marriage but without taking family factors into account. In fact, the marriage theories that exclude the family dimension obviously do not apply to the Chinese situation and therefore are unlikely to perfectly interpret the practice of remarriage in China. In the Chinese culture, marriage is never regarded as an act of individuals but instead is influenced by the family, the clan, and the interpersonal network built around the family (Fei Xiao-tong 1998). As Jin Yao-ji states (2010), a Chinese family is “a closely integrated entity”; all social value is imparted from the family to the individual by family education as well as by the function of socialization. Therefore, the family is of great importance to Chinese people’s marriage (Fei Xiao-tong 1998; Jin 2010). The practice of getting married and having children is considered an important symbol of family prosperity. In contrast, the disintegration of an individual’s marriage arouses concern and anxiety in other family members, especially the divorced individual’s parents.Footnote 4 In Chinese cultural situations, the range of parents’ responsibilities for their children appears to be boundless, from giving birth and bringing them up to taking care of grandchildren. The anxiety and concern from family members will have two effects on individuals’ remarriage. One is that these feelings produce an invisible pressure on the divorced, forcing them into another marriage. The other is that either the parents or other family members tend to make use of their communication network to provide an effective approach for the divorced to meet new marriage partners, and this also provides a momentum toward remarriage.
Similar to the function of families, clans also have an active effect on remarriage. In general, a clan is made up of several families; different families belonging to the same clan have a closer relationship than independent families without a clan relationship. As a result, when marriage disintegration occurs to a clan member, he or she will receive concern and help from the members of other families in the same clan. This concern can also be a kind of pressure that may urge the person to remarry quickly. In addition, families belonging to the same clan may have a broader communication network that increases the possibility of the divorced person finding a new marriage partner. According to the dependence relationship between families, clans, and marriage, the author believes that families, clans, and the kinship network built around the family all have a promoting effect of remarriage for an individual. The first hypothesis, together with its sub-hypotheses, is based on the above factors.
Hypothesis 1. On the whole, families and clans have a promoting effect on an individual’s remarriage.
Hypothesis 1a. In a family where parents are alive, the probability of their children’s remarriage increases.
Hypothesis 1b. The more members a family has, the higher the probability will be for an individual’s remarriage.
Hypothesis 1c. The probability of an individual’s remarriage increases in families in which relatives visit frequently or in families with a large-scale kinship network.
Hypothesis 1d. There is an increase of the probability of a divorced individual remarrying in a family attached to a clan.
The influence of personal resources and the differences between urban and rural areas and between genders
In addition to family factors, the factor of personal resources also influences remarriage. According to theories concerning the marriage market and choice of marriage partner, individuals with an advantageous position in resources will take the initiative in choosing their marriage partners. Theoretically, factors such as level of education, engagement in nonfarm work, good income, and house ownership have a positive effect on remarriage. However, due to the fact that a unique urban and rural difference exists in China as well as a difference in gender roles under the influence of the traditional culture, the degree of the influence of personal resources may also vary in different remarriage groups.
China’s unique household registration system has led to a division between urban and rural areas; this limits not only the free movement of urban and rural residents but also the integration of the marriage market between urban and rural areas. The only-child policy instigated in the 1980s together with the rapid spread of cheap and practicable technology of fetal sex identification and induced abortion has led to the widespread phenomenon of sex imbalance occurring at birth, especially in rural areas. It is very common for men in rural areas to experience difficulty in finding a marriage partner. More significantly, once a marriage disintegrates, remarriage for men is even more difficult. Quite different from these issues for men, women’s prospects for remarriage are much better because of the scarcity of women. In urban areas, there is a different phenomenon regarding the degree of difficulty of remarriage for men and women. Influenced by the difference between urban and rural areas and the culture of “marrying a man, following a man,” few women want to lower their social status by marrying a country man, and therefore, women have a limited number of choices in remarriage. In urban areas, men are in an advantageous position compared to women in regard to remarriage. Based on this fact, we propose the second hypothesis:
Hypothesis 2. In rural areas, men’s probability of remarriage is lower compared to women’s; however, in urban areas, men’s probability of remarriage is higher compared to women’s.
This gender difference can also be seen in the degree and way of the influence of personal resources on remarriage. On the one hand, the traditional family division of labor leads to differences between men and women in their spouse-choosing preferences. In this family labor division pattern “the man goes out to work while the woman looks after the house,” the role of the man is thus defined as the one that earns money to support the family, whereas the woman is the main provider of domestic work. Despite the fact that today a large number of women are also engaged in employment and contribute to the family income, the family role definition of the two sexes has basically remained unchanged.Footnote 5 This expected role difference results in variation in the relative importance of personal resources for men and women in the process of choosing remarriage partners. Accordingly, men with better education, higher income, engagement in nonfarm work, better housing conditions, and so on tend to remarry more easily. On the other hand, despite the fact that the advantage of owning personal resources may enhance women’s attraction in the remarriage market, it may also make them less dependent on marriage and reduce their willingness to remarry, resulting in the reduction of the possibility of remarriage because of life’s pressures. In addition, the rules of choosing a spouse make it more difficult for women with an advantageous position in personal resources to find a matching spouse in the remarriage market, and this may retard the progress of remarriage. The third hypothesis of the paper is proposed based on the above analysis.
Hypothesis 3. The advantages of personal resources such as education, income, and housing conditions are beneficial to men’s quick remarriage, but for women, those advantages are weakened because of the coexistence of two different functions.
The influence of employment, minor children, and age on remarriage
Different from some Western welfare states, the female labor-participation rate in China is comparatively high. The 1990s witnessed the rise of migrant workers, which encouraged many rural women, who had been mainly looking after their homes and performing some farm work, to join the labor force. According to statistical data issued in the USA in 2009, the Chinese female labor-participation rate was approximately 70 %, the highest rate in the world.
There are several reasons for maintaining a high rate of female labor-participation over a long period. The first is that in addition to increasing income for the household, employment allows women to improve their marginalized position in the family. To some extent, this has reduced their economic reliance on men, enabling them to achieve more equal rights within the household. Second, the traditional role of grandparents in Chinese families allows many women with children to invest more time in employment since childcare is not an issue. Third, since governments have not yet established a perfect social security system, women with children and a low income are forced to continue to work to earn a living after a divorce. What has been described here is quite different from what is stated in Western theories: when payment in the job market is higher than the expected profit obtained from housework, women want to enter the job market and put off marriage. The assumption accepted in Western theories—that individuals make a choice between employment and marriage—may not exist in the Chinese community.Footnote 6 Taking the above analysis into consideration, we believe that women’s participation in the labor force should not be taken as a deterring factor for remarriage; on the contrary, women may get more chances to meet members of the opposite sex at work, further promoting remarriage. For men, employment is a kind of resource. A well-paying job obviously enhances men’s advantages in choosing a spouse and promotes their remarriage. Therefore, the fourth hypothesis is based on the above analysis.
Hypothesis 4. For both men and women, employment can promote rather than deter remarriage, i.e., employment has a positive effect on remarriage regardless of an individual’s gender.Footnote 7
The influence of minor children is an issue that many digamists cannot avoid. Whether the existence of minors in a family will discourage remarriage or promote it has not yet been established in previous empirical studies. In the Chinese community, there are two aspects concerning the issue of child rearing that differ from the practice in Western welfare states. One is that in China childcare is provided by the family in most cases, and the other is that the traditional role of grandparents is popular with Chinese families. Because of these differences, the influence of minor children on remarriage may take different functions and forms.
In the Chinese community, once a divorce occurs, the individual that is expected to independently bring up the children faces economic pressures, which obviously has a negative effect on remarriage. However, such pressure may also produce a positive effect, that is, the economic pressure forces the individual to actively look for a potential remarriage partner in order to raise the children together, lessening the economic pressure. The author believes that in the Chinese community the influence of minors on remarriage is more positive than negative since child rearing is costly not only in money but also in time. Accordingly, if there is no one else available to help look after the children, the divorced individual will not be able to take a full-time job. This will make the divorced individual’s circumstances even worse, given he/she will have a lower income. Therefore, actively looking for another marriage mate to rebuild a new family is the best solution. Under these circumstances, individuals are not only greatly motivated but will also take a status-lowering strategy in order to achieve remarriage.Footnote 8 However, with the grandparenting tradition available in China, divorced individuals with parents may have their childcare needs taken care of and will thus be able to invest more time in employment. In these circumstances, divorced individuals may have the time necessary to find a suitable remarriage mate, thus delaying the process of remarriage. Accordingly, the fifth hypothesis proposes
Hypothesis 5. On the whole, the existence of minor children has a positive effect on remarriage. A divorced individual living with minors is more likely to get remarried.
Hypothesis 5a. Because of the gender role difference, men usually have difficulty raising minor children. Men with minor children are thus more likely to remarry than women.
Hypothesis 5b. With the grandparenting tradition available, divorced individuals with living parents may have their childcare temporarily provided by their parents; this may delay their remarriage.
Studies have shown that age is also one of the important factors influencing marriage (Li and Xiaolong Wang 2014). The generally accepted convention concerning marriage suggests that marriage has a best age period, and the probability of an individual’s marriage (except for those who do not want to marry) may be reduced if he or she misses their best age period. As for digamists, although most are not at their best age for marriage, they still consider youth as an advantageous resource. Generally, the younger an individual is, the better position he or she is in for remarriage. Furthermore, age has a different importance and value for males and females; age is more important for females than for males. There are two reasons for this. One is that marrying and extending the family line is crucial to Chinese families. For a remarried couple, even if both or either of the two already have children, it is still important for the remarried couple to give birth to and bring up their own child. Therefore, women who are still in the reproductive stage will be in an advantageous position in remarriage. The other reason is that in the mating culture, whether a woman is young is important to a man when choosing his marriage partner; in contrast, a woman does not attach much importance to a man’s age when choosing a marriage partner. As Shechtman (2005) points out, the society’s overcritical demand for women’s youth is one of the important reasons that older women experience difficulties in marriage. The sixth hypothesis is established on the basis of the above analysis.
Hypothesis 6. Age generally has a negative impact on remarriage. The probability of remarriage decreases as individuals’ age increases. A difference exists between men and women regarding the influence of age on remarriage, i.e., the negative effect of age on remarriage is stronger for females than for males.