China is facing a boom in breakups. Almost 10,000 marriages end in divorce every day, a figure that has been growing for the past decade, according to a report in China Daily citing Zhang Shifeng, head of the department of social affairs at the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
In 2012, the last year for which figures were available, China counted 3.1 million divorces, up 133 percent over 2003. Big cities are the epicenter of China’s new wave of “conscious uncoupling,” including Shanghai, Tianjin, and Beijing. In the capital, 164,000 couples tied the knot in 2012, while one-third as many dissolved their marriages—pushing the number of divorces up 65 percent since 2011.
In most cases the irreconcilable differences at the root of China’s rising divorces are common ones around the world: Top of the list are extramarital affairs, domestic violence, and an inability to communicate, said Du Huanghai, a Shanghai attorney cited in the China Daily report. Urbanites in their 20s and 30s “lack the patience to adapt to each other or make the necessary compromises, so their marriages are often in a fragile state,” Du said.
But divorce is happening more, in part, because it keeps getting easier. Laws have been simplified over the previous decades, making the process less complicated, notes Sun Xiaomei, a women’s studies professor at China Women’s University. And with the unraveling of China’s former cradle-to-grave urban employment system, couples no longer have to seek permission from their danwei, or work unit, nor from neighborhood committees, the nosy monitoring associations that were often staffed by elderly women and were once ubiquitous across China.
If policymakers want to stem the vow-breaking, they do have some leverage in the tax code. “Many couples opt to end their marriage for tax reasons, to purchase property [given Beijing’s restrictions on multiple purchases by couples] or get greater compensation for demolition of property,” as China Daily explained. Perhaps, if Chinese couples are separating for financial reasons, they could be persuaded to stay together for the same.