LADIES, WOULD YOU consider marrying a younger man? Yes please, say Hong Kong women. Thousands of them have been going north into Mainland China to find younger males to wed. The border closures have halted the process, but demographers expect it to restart before the end of the year. The bride-older-than-groom trend, rare across the world, has become common in Hong Kong.
While marriages between older women and younger men typically total only about 15% in most societies, in Hong Kong the number has been hovering between 38% and 45% of cross border marriages, thanks to women going to Mainland China, where they have more choice of men to pick from.
The violent Hong Kong upheaval of 2019, following by the pandemic-induced lockdown of 2020 dramatically halted the process, but demographers believe it will continue as a long term trend.
A CURIOUS TALE
The big picture story is also unusual.
Looking back 30 years to 1991 (graph below), we see the figures for cross border marriages following a very traditional pattern. Older Hong Kong males, often businessmen, would decide to find a bride, and would head north – their relative wealth, age and power would give them a wide range of young women to pick from.
In 69% of marriages, the male was at least five years older than the female. The older men typically picked attractive young women (the median age difference was nine years between them) and bring them back to Hong Kong. This model continued for decades. Some 93.9% of cross border marriages consisted of Hong Kong men and Mainland women at the time.
But in the past fifteen years or so, things began to change. The number of Hong Kong women heading north to return with Mainland marriage partners shot up steadily (see graph), reaching 48.4% of all cross-boundary marriages in 2019.
Then in 2020 it came to a halt, as the border became hard to cross, due to Covid-19 restrictions. Numbers collapsed from more than 7,000 trans-border marriages a year to just 1,581 in 2020, and there is little chance that 2021 figures, when they are available, will be any higher.
Three things to notice about the graph above:
While the number of Hong Kong men marrying mainland women (the purple columns) has been falling, the number of Hong Kong women marrying mainland men (green columns) has been growing long term, and holding steady, except for the 2020 border closure period.
The blue line shows that “finding a partner from the north” was very much a male habit in the past, but both sexes now find it a valid place to seek a partner.
The border closure has been terrible news for local demographers, who have been worrying for many years about Hong Kong’s baby shortage. A huge drop in marriage numbers means many thousand fewer babies in the near future.
What to do? Obviously the opening of the border will help, but a long term solution is also suggested by statistics. More integration with the mainland will be the inevitable answer: this city has a significant over-supply of females, and the mainland has a huge over-supply of males. Indeed, Hong Kong women have already chosen this answer and have led the way by taking advantage of the different situation to the North. Mainland men are plentiful in number and are hungry for partners.
As soon as the border with the mainland becomes easier to traverse, it is likely that Hong Kong ladies with marriage on their minds will be heading north again. And it is certain they will continue to disregard the strictures on conventional age differences.
This article was written by Nury Vittachi and H.C. Lu. Image at the top by Oxyde Colors/ Unsplash