Wednesday, July 7, 2010
We've posted a few times on the concept of property- (specifically home-) ownership as the central definition of the "American Dream," and I've critiqued the concept. One of the underlying questions is whether there is something uniquely, culturally "American" in the desire for widespread property ownership, or whether it's a more universal urge. I've heard good, thoughtful opinions on both sides, from colleagues at conferences and at my last faculty presentation at South Texas. So here's an interesting piece in the LA Times by David Pierson: China's Housing Boom Spells Trouble for Boyfriends: Many women won't marry a man who doesn't own a home. The article starts out with the story of what would seem a relatively successful, educated, urban bachelor who got dumped because he is not a home owner. The analysis:
Home prices in major cities including Beijing and Shanghai have easily doubled over the last year as families and investors rush to grab a piece of the Chinese dream. [ed.: wow!] A typical 1,000-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath apartment in the capital now costs about $274,000. That's 22 times the average annual income of a Beijing resident.
Unlike in the United States, where home buying traditionally takes place after marriage, owning a place in China has recently become a prerequisite for tying the knot. Experts said securing an apartment in this market signals that a man is successful, family-oriented and able to weather challenging financial circumstances. Put succinctly, homeownership has become the ultimate symbol of virility in today's China.
"A man is not a man if he doesn't own a house," said Chen Xiaomin, director of the Women's Studies Center at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law. "Marriage is becoming more and more materialistic. This is a huge change in Chinese society. No matter how confident a woman is, she will lose face if her boyfriend or husband doesn't have a house." . . . .
Material matters weren't quite so important when previous generations courted. Most Chinese were poor. Property was controlled by the state and homes were doled out through an individual's work unit. When China was more agrarian, marriages were usually arranged, and it was customary for a bride's family to provide a dowry — be it money, bedding or even a sewing machine.
But economic reform and mass urbanization in the last 30 years have upended these norms. In 1998, the central government launched one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history by allowing Chinese to buy their homes from the state, often with subsidies. The privatization of property spurred the creation of a commercialized housing industry with developers and investors.
I wonder what else factors in-- e.g., I've read elsewhere that the one-child policy has resulted in an out-of-whack male-to-female ratio in the generation that is now the young adult class. Perhaps this alters the balance of power in dating. But at any rate, it's quite interesting that as China has moved toward economic liberalism, its society has moved towards the normativity of home ownership (as "the Chinese Dream," no less)--just as more voices in the US are calling that norm into question (see, e.g., Thomas Sugure, The New American Dream: Renting?, WSJ 2009).