Moving Up or Staying Put? Mobility, Marriage and Gender in Transitional China

Lui, Ching Wu Lake. 2015. "Moving Up or Staying Put? Mobility, Marriage and Gender in Transitional China." PhD Dissertation, Department of Sociology, University of Washington.
Sara Curran (Chair), Kam Wing Chan (GSR), Julie Brines, Gary Hamilton

In China, despite longstanding inequalities based on gender, social class, and rural/urban status, several factors have potentially challenged the existing socially stratified structure in the recent decade – namely the prevalence of migration, recent socio-political reforms, cultural similarities, better education for the general public, and improvement in transportation. This dissertation asks how China’s stratified structure is shifting and/or reworking through marriage. Special attention is paid to intermarriages between rural and urban people, as these couples characterize how walls that delineate rural-urban boundaries begin to erode and how other structures like gender and class factor in. To answer these questions, my dissertation is organized into three chapters. First, I draw on the Chinese General Social Survey to examine the trends, prevalence, and the characteristics of rural-urban marriages. The results show that intermarriages are rare across periods despite the rising trend. The intermarriages that occur are characterized by exchange relationships in which rural people trade their higher education with the “urban” status of their spouse. Second, based on 138 in-depth interviews with participants in regions that send and receive migrants, I find that hukou (China’s household registration system) continues to stigmatize rural migrants. This creates a hierarchical and segregated social environment for rural-urban interactions that is unfavorable to people with a rural hukou in the urban marriage market. Hukou intersects with gender when people construct masculinity and femininity along rural-urban lines and make gendered choices during partner selection processes. Third, I find that the structural inequalities of hukou and gender extend into the conjugal power of intermarried couples. Specifically, rural women, who make up the majority of the rural spouses intermarrying into urban households, are treated as “double denigrated outsiders” in both the household and the host society. The results reveal how inequality is reproduced through partner selection and marriage despite socio-demographic factors that potentially expand the normative marriage pool. It also suggests hukou reform, which claims to blur the rural-urban boundary, still has a long way to go.

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