Love, money, and old age in China..Does Parental Matchmaking Matter?

Interesting research on arranged marriages in China (paper here).

They look at choices made by parents while selecting a match:

Jin, Huang and I studied couples data from the early 1990s in China to examine how parent-matched marriages differed from self-matched marriages in terms of marriage outcomes. In parent-matched marriages, the couple were matched by the parents or relatives; in self-matched ones, by the couple themselves or by their friends. We looked at marriage harmony (as measured by the extent of domestic conflicts and their resolutions) (a proxy of love), joint couple income, wife characteristics, and the number of children.

Unable to fully enjoy the love between the couple, the parents, when becoming the matchmakers, would pick someone partly based on what they like. Since a key component of old age support is provided in-house so that parents and the daughter-in-law have to get along, a submissive daughter-in-law would thus be desirable for the parents. Whether or not they’d pick a daughter-in-law with high earning capacity depends on labor market opportunities. In urban areas, earning opportunities are more abundant, and parents have incentives to pick daughters-in-law that do well in labor markets (while at the same time they can get along and they are willing to do household chores). In rural areas, earning opportunities are scarce, and parents then pick daughters-in-law that specializes in household production, and such wives tend to be submissive and have lower schooling level.

These conjectures are borne out in our research findings. Indeed, parent-matched couples had lower marriage harmony and the wives selected by parents were more submissive in their attitudes. Submissiveness is captured by whether the wife views women’s careers as less important than men’s, whether she thinks women can have good male friends outside marriages, and whether she believes that wives can reject husbands’ sex requests. Moreover, sons in parent-matched marriages had stronger belief for providing old age support, consistent with the notion that parents in need of old age support tend to manipulate children’s preference to cultivate altruism towards parents.

So what is the best way?

To preserve love in a marriage, good social support for the elderly should be facilitated so that parents would not focus on manipulating children’s preferences and picking submissive daughters-in-law; then love can truly prevail.

How relevant are the paper’s findings for China now or for other countries? Parent matchmaking is still prevalent in China, as illustrated in the recent photo taken by Bert Hoffman in a Chinese park, in which Chinese parents were busy doing their jobs as matchmakers—the papers on the umbrella cover personal profiles of their children. And parent matchmaking is also widespread in India and many other countries. The findings here could have implications in these countries.


Too easy to say. Marriage is a really complex society arrangement and it can go either way. One sees many marriages breaking even if it all started with love. There was love before marriage and nothing thereafter.


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