China is catching up to the western world in many ways, and unfortunately one of them is high divorce rates. A new report has just found that China’s skyrocketing rates of divorce can be blamed on a number of things, but one of them stands above all the others: social media.
The report was published in the Chinese magazine Banyuetan and said social media has made it easier than ever to reach out to people, a temptation that can be a destabilizing distraction for some marriages and fatal for others. Deputy of Expert Committee on Marriage and Family Research Chen Yiyun told Banyuetan that Chinese social media apps like WeChat and Momo have become a preferred tool for married men to pick up girls. According to data from Yihunyin, a website sponsored by China Marital Family Work Association, the number of mistresses that are discovered on WeChat or Momo has increased 20 per cent in the past few years.
These findings are consistent with those from a Palestinian study last year that found social media “misuse” to be responsible for raising local divorce rates. Chief of Judges Yousef Id’ies specifically named Facebook as the chief culprit, adding that “the increasing popularity of social websites has caused mistrust and jealousy between wives and husbands.”
China’s divorce rate has been steadily rising for over a decade. More than three million Chinese couples divorced in 2013, more than the 2.87 million in 2012 and 1.96 million couples in 2010. Large cities like Beijing and Guangzhou had a divorce rate that often surpassed 30 percent in 2013. In 2009, the People’s Daily reported the 1.2 million newly-married Chinese couples were outnumbered by the nearly two million couples filing for divorce.
Of course, social media is only a trigger. In 2013, a survey by Tsinghua University and lifestyle magazine Xiaokang named infidelity as the main reason married couples chose to part ways, although social media may have instigated many of those separations. Only 58 percent of respondents in that study said they were positive they would not cheat on their spouses if they met an attractive person.
And while more Chinese are using social media as a way to stray outside of their marriages, it’s still not a conventional way for couples to meet each other. Many opt to engage in the traditional practice of xiangqin, a meeting arranged by family or friends for two single people to decide if they are compatible for marriage. While a number of Chinese online dating sites have become very popular, a stigma is still attached to finding a marriage partner online. By comparison, a third of married US couples met online, with research even suggesting those relationships are more successful than others.
Some experts have offered different explanations in response to the Banyuetan report. Li Hongxiang, a professor of law at Jinlin University, said that Chinese people have stopped thinking of marriage as “until death do us part” in recent years, thus weakening the traditional institution. Shanxi researcher Liu Ning said migrant workers have turned to extra-marital affairs because the strain of long-distance relationships is too hard to bear. Beijing psychological consultant Liu Liping estimates 40 percent of divorces are caused by cheating.
All the same, the mounting association of marriage with divorce is scaring off young Chinese singles, of whom one-third are described as wanting to put off their looming wedding dates.