The Decline of Asian Marriage 亚洲的结婚率正在减少

二十年前突然冒出了一个有关是不是存在“亚洲人的价值观”的辩论。当时绝大部分的注意力都集中在怀疑独裁者们没有给人民带来民主。但是,另外一个不那么十分令人注意、却很有趣的论点是亚洲人传统的家庭观念比美洲人和欧洲人强,人们认为这也就是亚洲经济成功的一部分原因。强力提倡亚洲价值观的新加波前总理李光耀曾经说过,中国的家庭提倡“以学识、勤劳、节约和暂时不享受,来确保将来发展”。

从事实上来看,他的这个论点还是具有说服力的。在绝大部分亚洲国家里,结婚是很正常和很普遍的事实,而私生子是极少见的。相比之下,在某些西方国家里,有一半的婚姻是落到离婚的下场,而且有一半的孩子不是出生在一个由夫妻结合的家庭里。很多人认为,最近在英国所发生的暴乱中的暴民,都是由那些出生在破碎和反叛的家庭成员组成,这就显示了东西方的截然不同点了。

即便在不同的亚洲区域里有不同的风俗,但是在亚洲的东方、东南方、和南方,婚姻的状态也已经快速地改变了。这种变化与西方社会在二十世纪后半部分的变化还是不一样的。虽然离婚的数目有上升,但是相对来说还是少见的。在亚洲所出现的问题是婚姻好像不翼而飞了。

结婚的数目减少的一部分原因是因为人们不再没有那么急于要结婚。全世界的结婚年龄都有上升,而这个世界结婚年龄上升的主要原因乃是亚洲结婚年龄上升所致。现在的亚洲人甚至比西方人结婚的更晚。在日本、台湾、韩国和香港,这些比较富足的地方,结婚的平均年龄在最近的十年里有急剧的提升,女士们的平均结婚年龄已经达到29~30岁左右,而男士则达到31~33岁左右。

近来,不仅很多亚洲人结婚得比较晚,而且有的根本不要结婚。在日本,几乎有三分之一的女士,在她们三十几岁的时候还是没有结婚,而她们中的一半很有可能会一直单身。在台湾,超过五分之一的女士在她们近四十岁的时候还是单身;他们中的绝大部分会一直保持单身。在某一些地区,保持单身的比例是很引人注目的,比如:在曼谷,年龄在四十到四十四岁间的女士,其中有百分之二十是单身的;在东京,则是百分之二十一;在新加波,在大学毕业生这个年龄段里,有百分之二十七是单身。到目前为主,这种趋势还没有波及到亚洲的两个巨人 中国和印度。但是看来也是快了,就如那个席卷亚洲各地的经济风云也把这另个巨人卷入了一样;而且由于人们在堕胎时对性别的选择所带来的结果,已经体现到这一代已经达到结婚年龄人的比例上了。到2050年,在中国和印度,适合结婚年龄的男士人数将比适合结婚年龄的女士多六千万。

保持单身的快乐

当女士进入工作地位的时候,她们就渐渐地退出了婚姻的环境。其中部分原因是在亚洲,对女士来说,又要上班又要顾家,这样的生活是很不容易的。女士常常是照料丈夫、照料孩子、有时甚至包括照料父母的主要力量;而且当她们在整天上班之后,家人还是期待着她们继续的照料。虽然这个情况在全世界都有,但是在亚洲这种要求女士继续不断地照料家人的压力特别大。典型的日本女士,每礼拜要在办公室里上班四十个小时,然后回家平均每礼拜也要做三十个小时家务劳动;而她们的丈夫们,平均一礼拜只做三小时的家务。然而那些放弃工作回家照顾孩子的女士发觉,当她们的孩子长大以后,她们很难再回到她们原来的工作岗位上去了。因此亚洲女士们对婚姻有一种不寻常的悲观看法,那就不足为奇了。今年的一次民意调查显示,日本女士对婚姻有积极看法的人数远远低于日本男士、美国的男士和女士。

当上班工作让女士们对婚姻感到棘手的时候,上班工作也带给她们另外一样东西。就是越来越多的女士在经济上独立了,所以她们更有能力来过单身的生活,而不受被因为传统的婚姻所带来的繁重家务劳动的约束。教育的普及也是造成结婚率下降的一个原因,在亚洲女士中,受教育程度越是高的越是不愿意结婚;而现在的事实是有很多受过很高教育的亚洲女士。

不要结婚,不要孩子

在亚洲,不重视婚姻的看法与近来妇女解放运动有关。妇女解放运动是应该庆贺的,但是这些新观念也带来了社会问题。与西方国家比较,亚洲国家的政府不曾对退休金和其他社会保护项目有那么多的关注,而一般亚洲人都是认为家庭会照顾老人和生病的家人。按目前的情况来看,维持这样的情况会比较困难。结婚率的减低同时也就造成了出生率的降低。在远东,妇女的生殖率也从上个世纪的六十年代,平均每个妇女生5.3个孩子降到目前每个妇女只生1.6个孩子的生殖率。在那几个结婚率最低的国家里,生殖率则降到了每个妇女只生1.0个孩子的地步。这就导致了人口统计上的一个大问题,人口中的年龄分布有了惊人的变化。另外,还导致了一些不常讨论的问题:婚姻解决了男士所需要的交际,降低了男士身上的雄性激素储存量,在社会上也降低了犯罪行为。结婚率的降低,可能意味着犯罪率的上升。

很多亚洲国家的政府认为重视家庭生活一直是东方国家对于西方国家的强大优势,但是这种信念已经再也不能确保了。他们需要从他们国家里的巨大社会状态的变化中苏醒,从而思考如何来对付这样的情况。


讨论问题:

1.                在你的朋友和同事中,结婚的趋势是什么样的?

2.                你觉得是什么原因造成这样的婚姻的趋势?你可以参考本文也可以谈你自己的观点。

3.                如果你现在还没有结婚,你认为结婚有什么样的重要性?为什么?

4.                如果你已经结婚,你会对那些还没有男、女朋友的在职青年提出什么样的忠告?对于在热恋中的年轻人,你又有什么样的忠告?

Twenty years ago a debate erupted about whether there were specific “Asian values”. Most attention focused on dubious claims by autocrats that democracy was not among them. But a more intriguing, if less noticed, argument was that traditional family values were stronger in Asia than in America and Europe, and that this partly accounted for Asia’s economic success. In the words of Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of Singapore and a keen advocate of Asian values, the Chinese family encouraged “scholarship and hard work and thrift and deferment of present enjoyment for future gain”.

On the face of it his claim appears persuasive still. 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%. So far, the trend has not affected Asia’s two giants, China and India. But it is likely to, as the economic factors that have driven it elsewhere in Asia sweep through those two countries as well; and its consequences will be exacerbated by the sex-selective abortion practiced for a generation there. By 2050, there will be 60m more men of marriageable age than women in China and India.

The joy of staying single

Women are retreating from marriage as they go into the workplace. That’s partly because, for a woman, being both employed and married is tough in Asia. Women there are the primary caregivers for husbands, children and, often, for ageing parents; and even when in full-time employment, they are expected to continue to play this role. This is true elsewhere in the world, but the burden that Asian women carry is particularly heavy. Japanese women, who typically work 40 hours a week in the office, then do, on average, another 30 hours of housework. Their husbands, on average, do three hours. And Asian women who give up work to look after children find it hard to return when the offspring are grown. Not surprisingly, Asian women have an unusually pessimistic view of marriage. According to a survey carried out this year, many fewer Japanese women felt positive about their marriage than did Japanese men, or American women or men.

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.

No marriage, no babies

The flight from marriage in Asia is thus the result of the greater freedom that women enjoy these days, which is to be celebrated. But it is also creating social problems. Compared with the West, Asian countries have invested less in pensions and other forms of social protection, on the assumption that the family will look after ageing or ill relatives. That can no longer be taken for granted. The decline of marriage is also contributing to the collapse in the birth rate. Fertility in East Asia has fallen from 5.3 children per woman in the late 1960s to 1.6 now. In countries with the lowest marriage rates, the fertility rate is nearer 1.0. That is beginning to cause huge demographic problems, as populations age with startling speed. And there are other, less obvious issues. Marriage socialises men: it is associated with lower levels of testosterone and less criminal behavior. Less marriage might mean more crime.

. . . Asian governments have long taken the view that the superiority of their family life was one of their big advantages over the West. That confidence is no longer warranted. They need to wake up to the huge social changes happening in their countries and think about how to cope with the consequences.


Discussion Questions:

1.      What is the marriage trend among your friends or colleagues?

2.      What do you think is causing this trend in marriage in your region?  You may reference the article or have your own opinions.

3.      If you are not married currently, how important do you think it is to get married? Why?

4.      If you are married, what advice would you give a young working woman with no boyfriend or a young unattached man?  Also what advice do you have for a young couple that is dating for a couple of years?

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