When the going gets tough for China’s couples, more of them are calling it quits. Divorce rates in the country have climbed for the 12th consecutive year, this year 3.9 percent more than the prior year, according to new statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs in China. The ministry reported that last year a whopping 3.6 million couples got divorced.
That's more than the total number of marriages in the United States last year, estimated at around 2.1 million by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While marriages in China seem to be falling apart, experts say this is the result of a female empowerment movement gaining ground in the country.
“The rise of the divorce rate showed that more women began to defend their rights to equality, which marks social progress,” Peng Xiaohui, a sexology professor at the Central China Normal University, told state-run Global Times. The data focuses on various regions in China and found that rates of divorce were highest in the country’s far western Xinjiang Autonomous Region, with 4.61 couples in every 1,000 filing for divorce.
The willingness to go through with divorce also has to do with a waning stigma against couples who split up, especially among younger couples who were born between 1980 and 1989.
“Previously, people regarded divorce as something humiliating,” a marriage registrar in central coast province Jiangsu surnamed Wei said in the report. “Now couples view marriage differently from their parents and they do not think that divorce is a bad choice.”
Among those is 26-year-old Xiao Mei, who is filing for divorce from her 32-year-old husband after tying the knot last November. Even before they made it to six months, the couple had already gone to Beijing’s Municipal Civil Affairs Bureau to apply for a divorce.
“The first time we went to the bureau, we were taken to a room where a staff member persuaded us not to make a hasty decision, so we went home,” Xiao said in a separate Global Times report. “The second time we stepped into the building, my husband ran away. But I am still tired of the endless quarrels and cold war. We may finally divorce when the next fight comes.”
Though it seems women have become more empowered to end relationships that they consider unhealthy, women in China are still routinely stigmatized into getting married at a young age. Author Leta Hong Fincher wrote about sexism in China extensively in her book “Leftover Women,” which gets its title from a government organization called the All-China Women’s Federation which deemed unwed urban females over 27 “leftover women.”