In September 2008, the same month the 160-year old investment institution Lehman Brothers filed bankruptcy, the Chinese matchmaking website, Hongniang.com, conducted a series of polls with 6,600 Chinese women married to foreign men.
At the beginning of the financial crisis, when the survey study was first run, the average “happiness score” for Chinese women in cross-cultural marriages was 72, with women aged 25 to 30 reporting an average score of 76 and women aged 31 to 40 reporting a somewhat lower mean at 68.
The survey was repeated a year later with a total of 4,377 respondents with very different results: The overall happiness score dropped 25% to 54 (down from 76 to 63 for the 25- to 30-year old group and from 68 to 45 for the older women [Chen, 2009]).
It didn’t take long for the newspapers to jump all over these results with provocative headlines such as “Foreign men not so attractive” from the Shanghai Daily and “Chinese women find foreign men less attractive in financial crisis,” from the U.K.’s Telegraph with one special reports editor for the Shanghai Business Review announcing “Foreign Men Placed on the Discount Rack by Shanghai women” (ibid; Moore, 2009; Schwarz, 2009). It is very difficult to know what these results actually mean, if anything, without having full access to the original instrument, the methodology, and raw data. I have no idea how “happiness” was defined or measured or how the final “happiness score” was calculated. As the subjects of this study were all anonymous Internet users who agreed to participate in an online poll, we have no way of knowing how many of the respondents participated in both studies. In addition, and especially because a comparison (control) group was not used in either survey (e.g., calculating "happiness scores" for a comparable group of women who were married to Chinese men during the same time periods), accurate interpretation of the comparison between the two sets of results is impossible. For example, it's very possible and even likely that the world's financial crisis has adversely impacted all marriages, regardless of racial composition. For all we know, the overall happiness index for Shanghai women married to Chinese men, during the same period of time, may have been significantly lower than for those married to foreign men.
What I did find interesting though were the results reported for dating and marital preferences among the single Chinese women who participated in both polls. The percentage of women who expressed a desire for marrying a foreign man dropped from 42.5 percent to just 16.8 percent with 68 percent now indicating a clear preference for Chinese men (Chen, 2009). These results support our findings from a recent survey study of 302 unmarried Chinese young adults (mostly university students) in which 48.6 percent of our female respondents indicated a clear preference for Chinese husbands (Mavrides, 2009). The major difference, however, is in the interpretation of the results: In our study, the main reasons cited for this preference were concerns about cross-cultural conflict and parental disapproval, the latter of which may partially reflect the fact that our study’s population was considerably younger at a mean age of 21.5 years old. Is the world’s financial crisis souring Chinese girls on Western men? The Telegraph reports:
One anonymous 30-year-old poster on a Chinese internet forum said she had dated four foreign men, but that "while they might be more romantic and have better taste than Chinese men, they are not as good in some ways. One of my ex-boyfriends was very petty. We had to split the bill in a restaurant even after going out a long time, which rarely happens with Chinese men."
Aside from the fact that at least one of her Western boyfriends was a tightwad, and assuming there is a trend taking place in the decline of attraction to foreign men among single Chinese women, is this because the Lehman Brothers went bankrupt last year (in terms of what that represented to the world-at-large) or because, by comparison, fewer female Chuppies (Chinese upwardly-mobile professionals) are willing to struggle through the language barrier and other cultural differences as Chinese men are increasingly able to provide them with comparable or even greater stability later on in life? I suspect the latter, which is to say if there is an association between the economic meltdown in the West and a gradual decline in Chinese women’s attraction to foreign men, it’s probably because the schism between Yuppies and Chuppies, which once spanned the width of the Grand Canyon, has narrowed considerably.
The other point worth mentioning is that, as it appears the lion’s share of the women surveyed were from Shanghai, these data are most likely not representative of the majority of Chinese women who live in second- and third-tier cities, no more than a survey study of young, single, upwardly-mobile women from New York City would represent the average single American woman across that country. Nevertheless, the inferences we gleaned from our study regarding which subgroups of Chinese women would be the most attracted to foreign men appear to be more valid today than they were a few months ago when we first wrote them (see Attraction to Foreign Men).
Chen, Jane (2009, March 25) Foreign Men not so attractive. Shanghai Daily. (Retrieved May 4, 2009 from http://www.shanghaidaily.com/sp/article/2009/200903/20090325/article_395437.htm)
Mavrides, Gregory (2009). An Exploratory Study of Dating and Marital Preferences Among Chinese Young Adults. Work in progress registered with cogprints.org.
Moore, Malcolm (2009, March 26). Chinese women find foreign men less attractive in financial crisis. U.K. Telegraph. (Retrieved May 4, 2009 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financetopics/financialcrisis/5054057/Chinese-women-find-foreign-men-less-attractive-in-financial-crisis.html)
Schwarz, Brian (2009, March 26). Foreign Men Placed on the Discount Rack by Shanghai Women. China Challenges. (Retrieved May 4, 2009 from http://chinachallenges.blogs.com/my_weblog/2009/03/foreign-men-placed-on-the-discount-rack-by-shanghai-women.html)