In one of the most insane suggestions to appear in the press in recent years, a writer for The Economist argues that the solution to plummeting marriage rates in Asia is to introduce Western-style divorce and family law. The writer points to trends that have been ongoing in Asia for some time now as it develops, but comes to the wrong conclusion about how to solve them.
In most of Asia, marriage is widespread and illegitimacy almost unknown. In contrast, half of marriages in some Western countries end in divorce, and half of all children are born outside wedlock. The recent riots across Britain, whose origins many believe lie in an absence of either parental guidance or filial respect, seem to underline a profound difference between East and West.
Yet marriage is changing fast in East, South-East and South Asia, even though each region has different traditions. The changes are different from those that took place in the West in the second half of the 20th century. Divorce, though rising in some countries, remains comparatively rare. What’s happening in Asia is a flight from marriage.
Marriage rates are falling partly because people are postponing getting hitched. Marriage ages have risen all over the world, but the increase is particularly marked in Asia. People there now marry even later than they do in the West. The mean age of marriage in the richest places—Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong—has risen sharply in the past few decades, to reach 29-30 for women and 31-33 for men.
A lot of Asians are not marrying later. They are not marrying at all. Almost a third of Japanese women in their early 30s are unmarried; probably half of those will always be. Over one-fifth of Taiwanese women in their late 30s are single; most will never marry. In some places, rates of non-marriage are especially striking: in Bangkok, 20% of 40-44-year old women are not married; in Tokyo, 21%; among university graduates of that age in Singapore, 27%…
Asian studies departments in the West have become bifurcated, with one faction following the traditional historical, political and economic course of study, and the other the anthropological, artistic, religious and, yes, gender course. The former is still a fairly comfortable place for a young man, but the latter has become the typical neo-Marxist feminist domain. The writer of this article has most likely studied anthropology in the context of Asia, which has become stuffed full of genderist garbage, and is probably a committed feminist (who else would advocate Western-style divorce as a “solution?”).
According to the article, women won’t marry because work is a better alternative:
At the same time as employment makes marriage tougher for women, it offers them an alternative. More women are financially independent, so more of them can pursue a single life that may appeal more than the drudgery of a traditional marriage. More education has also contributed to the decline of marriage, because Asian women with the most education have always been the most reluctant to wed—and there are now many more highly educated women.
The author is incorrect. What we are seeing here is not women fleeing the drudgery of domestic life, but rather plain old hypergamy at work. In many parts of Asia, young women now earn more than young men. Asian women are as happy as ever to marry up, but that’s becoming increasingly difficult as men no longer have an advantage as providers. In fact, in a return to tradition, Chinese women are now increasingly turning to polygamous arrangements as disparities in wealth become wider. It’s better for them to share a rich man than to have a poor man all to themselves.
In addition to the marginalization of young men, property prices have gone through the roof in Asia. Young couples – especially more modern-minded ones – tend to delay marriage until they can afford a place of their own.
However, rather than address the issue of the declining status of the average male in Asian society, the author argues that the solution is to further empower women relative to men by introducing Western family law:
Can marriage be revived in Asia? Maybe, if expectations of those roles of both sexes change; but shifting traditional attitudes is hard. Governments cannot legislate away popular prejudices. They can, though, encourage change. Relaxing divorce laws might, paradoxically, boost marriage. Women who now steer clear of wedlock might be more willing to tie the knot if they know it can be untied—not just because they can get out of the marriage if it doesn’t work, but also because their freedom to leave might keep their husbands on their toes. Family law should give divorced women a more generous share of the couple’s assets. Governments should also legislate to get employers to offer both maternal and paternal leave, and provide or subsidise child care. If taking on such expenses helped promote family life, it might reduce the burden on the state of looking after the old.
All one has to do to see that this arrangement won’t work is take a look at what happened to marriage in the West following the implementation of these “reforms.” Giving Asian women the legal upper hand over husbands would have roughly the same effect it has in the West: illegitimacy would skyrocket, and it would no longer be only women who were skeptical about marriage, but men as well. A further exacerbating factor in Asia is that prostitution is culturally tolerated to a degree unknown in the West. Men who felt that a wife was too much of a risk or bother would simply hang out with their friends and use hookers for sex. If marriage is made riskier and more expensive, the prostitution industry will grow to monstrous proportions.
If there is anything about Western society not to emulate, it is our insane divorce laws. The solution to the marriage crisis in Asia is not to legally castrate men, but rather to restructure the economy so that they have more opportunities to provide for a family. It’s quite disappointing to see The Economist taking such a wrong-headed approach to this problem, but I suppose this is the result we ought to expect from our feminized universities and the vapid pundits they promote.