'I do...but not yet': Generations clash over late marriage in China



What happens when you are young, single and carefree but your parents think you're throwing your life away? The clash between generations has been intensifying in China as growing numbers of young people are postponing walking up the aisle.

Over three in five men and more than four in five women are now opting for so-called late marriages, tying the knot after 23 for women and older than 25 for men, according to the Chinese Marriage Status Report in 2015.

However, parents are not necessarily pleased that their children are putting careers before marriage and prioritizing personal freedom over settling down.

A parent holds a resume of her son, hoping to find him a girlfriend.

According to the ancient Chinese saying: "There are three forms of unfilial conduct, of which the worst is to have no descendants."

"If one reaches a certain age and hasn't yet got married or had children, that's a terrible loss of face for parents,” explains Zhang Pengkun, professional matchmaker for China’s largest dating website, Baihe.

Worried that their neighbors might think there is something not quite right with their child, parents are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure their kids get hitched.

One approach is offering their child - often without their knowledge or consent - to one of China's blind dating events. The one in the People’s Park in Shanghai is among the best known, having received repeated media coverage.

It was under the international spotlight last year when British actor Sir Ian McKellen posed at the event with a piece of paper offering himself to potential parents-in-law.

And last year it was the backdrop of a marketing campaign by cosmetics company SKII, when large portraits were hung up featuring images of young women facing pressure from their parents to wed and their reasons as to why they didn't want to.

“I don’t want to get married just to get married. I won’t live happily that way”, is the message that one of the women featured wants to get across to her parents.

Indeed, the big shift is that priorities have changed for young Chinese. Their parents were very pragmatic about their choice of partner, a fact that can be seen from the marriage CVs they bring to the blind dating event detailing their child’s physical information, such as height, weight, age plus their level of education, job and income.

However, the younger generation want more.

Professor Chak Wong of the University of Science and Technology in Hong Kong is author of a book on the economics of love and marriage. He believes it’s all about putting things into perspective.

“My advice is try first to explain and more importantly try to explain in language that your parents can understand. Getting married, it’s no longer the case that you will stay married for the rest of your life. It’s not something like the older generation," he said.

"So tell them the divorce statistics. Get them to think about the divorce probability. So that they will understand marrying the wrong person or marrying and then divorcing is much worse than not marrying at all.”