Intermarriage and Social Exclusion in China

Yu Wang, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Christine R. Schwartz, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Hukou is a key status marker in contemporary China. As such, trends in Hukou intermarriage convey important but previously underappreciated information about social mobility in China. This article examines trends in Hukou intermarriage between 1958 and 2008. We find that Hukou intermarriage is surprisingly common and has grown steadily since 1985. Hypotheses derived from Western contexts—educational expansion, changes in availability, and increased inequality—fail to explain the trend in ways predicted in prior work. A common hypothesis is that increased inequality should reduce intermarriage by making it more costly to “marry down.” We find the opposite in China, which suggests that the costs of marrying down may be outweighed by the incentives in this context. Our results also suggest that changes in the ease of Hukou conversion play a large role in increased intermarriage. These findings suggest that standard hypotheses about assortative mating may not be applicable in contexts with strong state controlled social boundaries.

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Presented in Session 96: Migration and Intermarriage