Why life is getting harder for HK men

October 09, 2017 12:36
Profound changes in society in the past few decades have led to many traditional notions about marriage being turned on the head. Image credit: Bloomberg

It is tough to be a man in Hong Kong. You must secure a good job and keep your mother happy – and also deal with the increasingly difficult task of finding a life partner.

Government figures published this year found that 33.1 percent of Hong Kong men and 28.5 percent of women had never married, with the number of such women up 61 percent as of last year, compared to 1986.

Last year 7,626 Hong Kong ladies married men from the mainland, more than three times the 2,190 such cases in 1997. Meanwhile, the number of Hong Kong men who married mainland women fell to 15,300 from 28,309 in the same period. And the average age of the first marriage of women increased from 25.3 years in 1986 to 29.4 last year and that of men from 28 to 31.4.

These figures tell a story of profound changes in society over the past few decades. Earlier, marriage was almost obligatory for both sexes. If a person could not find a spouse, his or her family would find one and push the marriage through. Having children was almost obligatory too; a childless marriage was considered a failure and a loss of face for the two families. Those who were homosexual had to conceal the fact from their family; many married in order to be 'normal', despite their sexual inclination.

However, the status of women has changed dramatically since then. Now they are as well or better educated than men; services account for more than 90 percent of the city’s GDP, giving women equal opportunity at work; and contraception is easily available. Influenced by Western models, society has come to accept more easily those who are homosexual, single, divorced and childless. It is no longer taboo for women to marry men younger than themselves.

Women work long, exhausting hours and have less time for social life and dating. The city offers a wide variety of sports, entertainment and eating where they can spend their salaries – without men.

Late last month the Hong Kong Ideas Centre published a survey of 804 Hong Kong people who had married people from over the border. The women said that they found Hong Kong men immature and too mean with money. One lady of 34 married a mainland man four years her junior she had met in an exporting company in Shenzhen; he was in the sales department.

"He is different to Hong Kong men," she said. "He has a good head for business and is capable and honest. I find Hong Kong men childish and nagging."

Another benefit of a mainland husband is that your mother-in-law does not live in Hong Kong but in a distant city.

This sharp increase in Hong Kong women choosing mainland spouses was one of the focuses of the survey. Previously, most women here would have looked down on men from the mainland and seen them as a poor second choice. But four decades of rapid growth and more universities have created in China a huge middle class of well-educated young men with good salaries and a more international outlook than their parents.

Asked why they had chosen mainland husbands, the spouses said that the men were "intelligent, capable, uninhibited and generous.”

The survey interviewed a lady from Harbin who married a Hong Kong man; they have two children. They live with three other members of his family – seven people in all – in an apartment of 700 square feet in Kowloon. The family has a monthly income of HK$25,000.

"It is very hard to adapt to such a small space," she said. "Our income does not allow us to buy another apartment in Hong Kong." So they have bought a unit in Zhuhai, where prices are much cheaper; every one or two months, the couple spends a few days there "for a little fresh air".

Of the 804 surveyed, 55 percent said that they would consider living in Shenzhen or another city in the Pearl River Delta (PRD), in order to have an environment better than in Hong Kong. In doing so, their salaries would enable them to move from the middle class to the upper middle class. This is also a big change – it reflects the improved quality of living in PRD cities and the convenience of transport from Hong Kong to these cities.

But not everything is perfect in cross-border marriages. Politics is a divisive subject, with the partners often holding views that are diametrically opposed. To avoid quarrels, couples agree to avoid certain topics.

One Hong Kong wife said that on days when the city has elections or major protests, she and her mainland husband follow a vow of silence, to maintain peace in the household.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.