Marriage mobility and footbinding in Pre-1949 rural China: a reconsideration of gender, economics, and meaning in social causation

Melissa J. Brown, Laurel Bossen, Hill Gates, Damian Satterthwaite-Phillips

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

We provide evidence contrary to long-standing general expectations that before 1949 most Chinese women married up the social hierarchy and that footbinding facilitated this hypergamy. In our sample of 7,314 rural women living in Sichuan, Northern, Central, and Southwestern China in the first half of the twentieth century, two-thirds of women did not marry up. In fact, 22 percent of all women, across regions, married down. In most regions, more women married up than down, but in all regions, the majority did not marry hypergamously. Moreover, for most regions, we found no statistically significant difference between the chances of a footbound girl versus a not-bound girl in marrying into a wealthier household, despite a common cultural belief that footbinding would improve girls' marital prospects. We do find regional variation: Sichuan showed a significant relation between footbinding and marital mobility. Nevertheless, our evidence of the basic economic circumstances of rural women's marriages from several of China's regions, including Sichuan, supports a different cultural belief as relevant to the lives of most women: marriage among equals. These results have implications for understanding pre-1949 Chinese gender relations and rural life as well as for theorizing social causation.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1035--1067
JournalThe Journal of Asian Studies
Volume71
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 2012

Keywords

  • INHS

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