Rational Choice in Uncertain Times: Coping with Marital/Family Fragmentation during Economic Reform

Document Type

Journal Article


Sociology and Anthropology

Publication Date



Over the past three decades, China's economic reform has produced an economic miracle. At the same time, marriage and family relations have been dramatically transformed. Drawing on data collected between 1999 and 2003 from in-depth interviews in several cities of China, the current study explores coping strategies of over two dozen middle aged women who were experiencing marital fragmentation or family disintegration. Seven types of coping strategies were identified: Sticky Attachment and Tolerance of Betrayals, Seeking Freedom from Unhappy Marriages, "Fearing Shadow of a Rope once Bitten by a Snake," Enduring Humiliation and Keeping up Appearance, Loveless Marriage as a Protective Roof or Label, Cheating to Trade Off between Loyalty and Excitement, and Cherishing Love and Safeguarding Marriage. Such strategies reflect the complexity for Chinese women who are compelled to make "rational choices" about marriages in a climate of uncertainty and structural change.

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