“Divorced Yet?” – Why China Has a Soaring Divorce Rate


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The divorce rate in China increased to 3.9 percent over the last year, with 3.63 million couples bringing their marriage to an end, according to the latest data released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The rate has been rising for twelve consecutive years since 2003. “Have you divorced today?” (今天你离了吗) has recently become a common joke between Chinese people. While some blame China’s social media, others say the reasons for the soaring divorce rates can be found elsewhere.

In its Social Service Development Statistical Bulletin, the Chinese government recently reported that the national divorce rate soared to 2.67 percent in 2014, compared to 1.05 percent in 2003, and 0.4 percent in 1985. The renowned Chinese magazine Banyuetan (半月谈) interviewed couples about their reasons for divorce in June, concluding that the mass adoption of social media across China is mostly responsible for the rising divorce rate in China. A lot of couples think that social media has turned them away from each other.

The report also stated that Chinese social media apps such as Weixin (微信, WeChat) and Momo (陌陌, Chinese ‘Tinder’) have made it easier to reach out to people, which has messed up a lot of marriages.

On Sina Weibo, over a dozen of media, including People’s Daily (人民日报) and Global Times (环球时报), recently took the topic online to initiate a discussion amongst netizens on whether social media is the killer of marriages in China.

“Social media have made having an affair so easy.”

User AkiraHunter commented: “It’s really not easy to maintain a relationship or a marriage. In my opinion, social media is a major problem. WeChat, Momo and Century Love (世纪佳缘) have become key tools when it comes to hooking up. Social media have made having an affair so easy.”

Other users, however, do not believe that social media are the biggest reason to trigger divorce. Some think that the higher divorce rate can be explained by the social progress and growing gender equality in China.

“I don’t think social media are to be blamed for the high divorce rate. It’s rather just a medium for expressing human thoughts and desires,” says user Night of Anhui Sound: “The divorce rate in China would have kept rising without the existence of social media too, as society is making more progress and genders are more equal. Women now know how to protect themselves in cases of domestic violence or extramarital affairs.”

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User Arale1 added: “We used to think that divorce is a shame for women. A lot of Chinese women put up with a dead marriage for the sake of their children, and because they needed financial support from their husbands. But nowadays, women don’t really need men to support them, as many women start to make more money than men. We have realized that we shouldn’t discommode ourselves anymore. Getting divorced is not the end of the world. On the contrary: it could be the beginning of a new happy life.”

“Nearly 40% of marriages in Beijing end in divorce.”

It’s worth noting that the comments above only apply to women in urban areas, where the divorce rate is much higher than in rural China. Nearly 40 percent of marriages in Beijing end in divorce – a remarkable peak compared to the national divorce rate of 2.67 percent.

Chinese women in big cities and urban regions now have more opportunities for higher education leading to well-paid jobs, which makes them financially independent. Young women in China don’t need to rely on their husband to support them anymore. Thus, money is no long the reason for not getting a divorce.

In rural areas, however, people are still not that tolerant of divorce. Many women are forced to stay in a broken marriage in order not to ruin their families’ reputation. It would also be more difficult for a divorced woman in rural China to find another man who is willing to marry her.

Another factor that cannot be neglected in this issue, is the China’s one child policy (独生子女政策). The post-1980s generation (80后) has been raised as an only child in the family, without having a siblings to interact with. This so-called “me generation” is often described as being selfish, impulsive and unwilling to compromise. Their parents urge them to get married, and then interfere with their marriages. The combination of these factors seems to be a major contributor to the higher divorce rate. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, of all couples filing for divorce in 2014, those born in the 80s had the highest divorce rate. “Lightning divorce” (闪婚闪离) has specifically been a trend among this ‘me generation’.

“We didn’t want to compromise, so we just got divorced.”

Unlike the dating culture in most western countries, Chinese couples usually do not live together before they decide to tie the knot. Typically, they date for a year or two – going to the movies, having dinner, occasionally having sex in a hotel room, or taking a few short trips together. Then the parents start to pressure them to get married. Some young women choose to get married in order not to become ‘leftover women‘ (剩女).

“Parents and other relatives won’t give you enough time to figure out with whom or when you want to be married. They believe it’s time to do it when you reach certain age. They pressure you so hard! We got married shortly after dating, and then realized we don’t even share the same values in life. As the only child in the family, no one wanted to compromise, so we just got divorced,” confesses Weibo user Kianase.

“Getting divorced for two dollars.”

In addition to the above reasons, the easy procedure and low cost of getting divorced in China also cause rising divorce rates. Before 2003, a reference from either the employer or a community leader was required for applying for a divorce. Many couples would not consider divorce due to the humiliating process. But now the rules have changed, and this is no longer needed. Unlike couples in other countries that are required to separate for a period of time before they can legally file for divorce, separation is not required in China. Couples can quickly, easily, and privately file for divorce. The divorce fee is less than two dollars and even free of charge in some cities.

However, these procedures are, again, changing. Some local civil affair departments have just launched the new policy of “limited numbers of divorce” (限号离婚), in hopes of decreasing impulsive divorces. Citizens in Guangzhou posted on Sina Weibo that they have to wait for at least a month to file for divorce.

The new policy finds online support. As the user Yefuping says: “Some government working efficiencies should be improved, while others should be slowed down. The speed of processing divorce should definitely be reduced, so that couples have some time to think twice before they sign the papers.”

By Yiying Fan

Images by Manya Koetse

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.

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