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Title:Partner selection in post-reform China: Power, privilege, and norms
Author(s):Zeng, Liqun
Director of Research:Liao, Tim
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Liao, Tim
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Leicht, Kevin; McDermott, Monica; Lyons, Angela
Department / Program:Sociology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Mate Selection
Partner Selection
Rural-urban migrants
Female migrants
Housing Price
Social Norm in Marriage
Abstract:The nature of marriage is both economic and social, making it an ideal object for one to study the individual behaviors impacted by social transformations that started from the economic realm but ultimately altered the social structure. Market transition theory depicted the transformation in China since 1978 as a shift from hierarchies to market in a socialist economy. In a state-regulated economy of central control and redistribution, the direct administrators in charge of redistribution of resources enjoyed most of the privileges in the regime. The re-introduction of market brought new incentives and opportunities that altered the distribution of resources and hence the sources of power and privilege.  Inspired by and extended from the investigations on the sources of power and privilege in the economic life of Chinese since 1978, this dissertation focused on the transformed order and sources of power and privilege in the realm of the social life, specifically the marriage and partner selection in the post-Reform China. How did individuals embedded in a society of strong state influence respond to new opportunities, incentives, and constraints that seemly emphasizes individualism? Who gained and who lost power in partner selection since the Reform? Did individuals make new choices in their partner selection? This dissertation aimed at answering these questions through the study on marriage and partner selection guided by a social exchange perspective.
 The dissertation studied the partner selection in post-Reform China in two cases— (1) the household registration system (the hukou system) as a case of state regulation and (2) the housing market as a case of economic growth and market impact. Using panel survey data and social media data, I quantitatively and qualitatively studied (1) the impact of hukou policy on the partner selection of female rural-to-urban migrants; (2) the impact of decreased house affordability on the partner selection of urban Chinese; and (3) the tension between the social norm of marriage and the constraints of partner seekers to act accordingly and the consequences of this mismatch on the individual participants in the marriage market. The findings suggest that the dynamics of power and privileges in the marriage market shifted along with the shift of access to the economic and social resources, which, after 1978, were mainly determined by the coupling of market and state. Individuals who detached from their local communities of origin utilized “personal assets” such as beauty or educational attainment to seek social mobility via marriage in response to new opportunities and constraints brought by the introduction of market. As economic and social resources are more abundant in urban China particularly after the Reform, those who could provide relatively better access to these resources concentrated in cities gained power in the marriage market, be it city locals relative to rural migrants, or property owners relative to property have-not.  When the house is still more or less a must for marriage but the young men and women in urban China can barely afford a house only by themselves, the influence from their more financially capable parents found an easy way to influencing their children’s marital decision. Single women felt great pressure from their parents who pushed them entering marriage “on-time” and in the end, turned the family of origin from a place of support to a place of stress. When the barrier and cost of family formation increased, the emotional support one can receive from family was compromised: the trust between a groom and a bride, the understandings from the natal family, and the well-being in the extended family of a married couple are all impacted as the consequences of a more expensive family formation.
Issue Date:2020-03-16
Rights Information:Copyright 2020 Liqun Zeng
Date Available in IDEALS:2020-08-27
Date Deposited:2020-05

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