The income inequality in urban area is never a new topic (Kuznets, 1955). Previous researches on income inequality have shown three prominent characteristics. First, income inequality is ubiquitous. The rising income inequality has become a global issue with various specific reasons in certain regions (Gottschalk, Smeeding, 1997). Second, apart from the wide geographical coverage of inequality, much of the literature on increasing income inequality attributes the reason of economic inequality to globalization and industrialization (Wei, 2007; Prieto-Carron, 2008; Acker, 2006), increase of population (Kuznets, 1955), biased state policies (Wei, 2007; Wang & Zuo, 1999), limited access to education (Okushima & Uchimura, 2005), segregated labor market and occupations (Wang & Zuo, 1999; Beck, & Horan. & Tolbert II, 1980; Hartment, 1976), poor welfare system and benefits (Wang & Zuo, 1999), and restricts of migration policies (Wang & Zuo, 1999). Finally, income inequality is closely related to intersectionality of class, race and gender. Joan Acker emphasizes particularly on gender economic inequality. She argues that gender system can never be distinct from capitalism because the relations of distribution which is deeply rooted in the capitalist society is largely gendered (1988). Job segregation by sex is a common problem where female workers have to claim their subordination to male workers in most of the positions (Hartmann, 1976). The principle of such sexual division of labor is a reproduction of labor division in families. Women suffer from a double burden of less paid (than men) work and unpaid reproductive work and struggle with the risk of being dismissed when they are pregnant or get married (Prieto-Carron, 2008).
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Such risk, as well as the survival pressure under the huge income gap, has profoundly influenced people’s marriage timing. Despite a wealth of research has been conducted on personal perception of marriage (Etaugh, 1984; Hoffnung, 2004), causal link between income and marriage timing (Gould. & Paserman, 2003), however, little work has examined specifically whether gender income inequality among migrants group has correlation with marriage timing. Are their decisions of getting married affected by the similar determinants to non-migrants? Because the migrants groups face more uncertainty about future as well as political restrictions than local people, investigation of the relations between income and marriage timing of migrants has much to inform the policies around migration as well as mitigating income gap in urban areas.
In this article, I focus mainly on the income and gender inequality among rural- urban migrants in China coastal cities and its influence on their marriage timing. In Section 2 I will discuss the reason of income inequality between urban migrants and local people, and then I will move on to theory of marriage which includes marriage-squeeze theory and job-search theory in Section 3. In this part the explanation of income inequality’s impact on marriage timing of migrants will also be investigated.
2. Explanations for income gap of urban migrants in China
Although obviously large amount of rural-urban migration is a consequence of industrialization and globalization, the decision to migrate to cities is never obedience to historical trend. Todaro migration model argues that migration is driven primarily by rational economic considerations of relative benefits and costs (Todaro, 2000). Psychologically, the charisma of urban prosperity is another important reason for migration.
However, migrants’ benefits also lag behind those of local residents. One of several migration restrictions is Hukou System which requires a mandatory birth registration in nearest living area. With such registration firmly tied to birth place, migrants are denied full citizenship (i.e. the right to apply urban welfare, right to permanently reside) until after a long waiting period after they migrate to urban areas, usually five or six years. Before getting the grant, migrants can only search for jobs which don’t require strict documentation. During the Opening Reform in 1980s, Chinese government changed the fixed residence policy toward "floating population" approach which allowed people to transfer their Hukou to another place for employment and educational reasons. The policy offered youths in the countryside an opportunity to transfer their registration to cities as long as they go to universities there. The number of migrants from rural to urban areas has risen from 10 million in 1985 to about 200 million people in 2004, and the number is being widened nowadays.
Unfortunately, the policy adjustment did not relieve the inequality between migrants and local residents or between genders within the migrants groups. Though people are allowed to migrate, it's hard to bring families to cities because it's too risky to give up all properties in the countryside and strive in a society which requires much higher education and have everything started from the very beginning. With a strong kinship in rural area, migrants cannot set up a long-term goal or decide to stay in cities for long. Besides, for most rural-urban migrants there exists a huge gap between their expected gain and their actual wage. Since migrants are largely marginalized and discriminated in urban regions, they take up jobs that are characterized by long hours, poor working conditions and low benefits. Such jobs never attract local people. Consequently migrants and local residents participate in two different labor markets. Such occupational segregation results in not only a regional development inequality but also a gendered inequality of employment opportunities among migrants (Sassler, & Schoen, 1999). For example, one third of local employees in Shanghai take up jobs as white collars in government and enterprises, while migrants who come from rural areas mostly work in manufacturing factories (mostly women)(Wang. & Zuo., 1999). Therefore, the Hukou system has contributed to inequality by limiting the opportunities of the relatively poor migrants to better-paying emploment (Dollar, 2007).
Another reason for gender inequality among migrants groups is due to the elite education model. In populous developing countries where there are limited educational resources that cannot serve many people at a time, government usually take the elite education model according to which only a small proportion of people can be admitted by university. Such educational model, unlike citizen education in U.S., is largely restricted by population and educational resources. Under such educational model, only those with high-level knowledge can meet the market needs and find a good job. To get governmental permission of transferring birth registration to urban area, migrants have to compete with urban residents for limited social resources. As a result, only 3% of the migrants can receive advanced education and find a white-collar position in urban areas (Wang. & Zuo., 1999). Moreover, since the custom which outweighed male’s patriarchal domination to female, women are deprived of equal access to education with those of men. Large numbers of women are still illiterate today. One disadvantage of such model is that those who have received advanced knowledge can occupy crucial positions in governments and thus grasp most of the social resources. Those with little education, however, have no skills and competence; neither do they have choice but to seek low-wage jobs.
In summary, income inequality of migrants does not only exist between migrants and local urban residents, but also among those minority of migrants who received the college education and those who has no knowledge (most of whom are women). Moreover, gendered income inequality among migrants results from synergies of factors which include a) globalization in macro-level; and b) state policies of Hukou System and elite education model; and c) patriarchal domination and women’s illiteracy. These factors mutually reinforce each other and eventually affect their marriage timing.
3. Income and marriage timing
Past researches studied marriage decision making from two aspects. One aspect concerns rational decision making and psychological desire for marriage. People’s motive to marry results from several factors such as age (Qian., & Preston, 1993; Rogers.,& Thornton, 1985), culture (Anderson, 1990), mate availability (Lichter., Anderson., & Hayward., 1995) and personal preferences (Mclanahan., & Casper., 1995; Etaugh., & Stern., 1984).The other aspect is the behavior of getting married at a certain age. Researches in this aspect concerns what affect both genders in their marriage timing (Carlson, 1985) as well as how marriage rates are influenced by rising gender inequality (Gould., & Paserman., 2003). Several scholars used terms like “motive to marry”, “desire for marriage” and “marriage timing” as interchangeable words. However, I argue that these terms should be categorized clearly because the role of personal preferences is largely ignored from desire for marriage to the behavior to marry at last. In this section I will investigate the behavior of marry, more specifically, marriage timing of migrants.
Oppenheimer discusses two models which illustrate how people interact in marriage market (1988). The first one is “Marriage-Squeeze” approach which refers to people being passively squeezed out of marriage market when potential brides’ number does not approximately equal the number of potential grooms. Demographic imbalance is the key reason of this model. However, Oppenheimer argues that this approach pays attention only to the opposite effects which result from the change of marriage timing between two sexes rather than explain the simultaneous increase of decrease in marriage age of male and female.
The other model is “Job-Search” approach which emphasizes the uncertainty of exogenous factors and links to one’s current and future attributes in affecting people’s marriage timing. In this model, economic condition or income is a major source of uncertainty to affect marriage timing because socio-economic situation is invisible, unpredictable and sensitive to exogenous influences (Oppenheimer, 1988). Like the process of searching jobs, one may set up a minimum standard for selection. Those who cannot meet the standard will not be considered as mate. Both models can be used to explain the importance of income in considering when to get married among migrants. As a marginalized group of people in urban cities, migrants face multiple obstacles to sharing prosperity with local urban residents: lack of education and less capability, poverty, occupational and housing segregation, gender discrimination, etc. Most of them face a different labor market from those of local people in which jobs are all about poor income, overtime working and poor benefits. This means migrants are put into a much less competitive place that they can hardly feed themselves or give marriage priority because nobody wants to marry a pauper. It can also be speculated that migrants are limited in a distinct marriage market in which most members are also migrants. They are squeezed outside urban marriage market because they cannot meet the urban people’s standards at all. If they don’t want to be left out, they have to improve their economic condition first. Thus, low- income men are less likely to marry partly because their economic situation cannot meet the standards of most women. As a result, they are squeezed out of the marriage market and have to delay their timing for marriage (Watson., & McLanahan., 2009).
The economic situation of two sexes has impact on people’s marriage timing as well. Highly differentiated gender roles will foster sex differences in age at marriage. When men’s economic roles and women start to converge, then women’s timing of marriage would be delayed due to their long- run attributes (Oppenheimer, 1988). Increase in educational attainment and growth in employment opportunities result in women’s independence. Increased economic opportunities enable women to avoid marrying (Goldscheider & Whhaite, 1986; South, 1993; Waite & Spitze, 1981). For those migrants who receive the education opportunities and then can take a better job in cities, delay of marriage does not due to the urgency to feed oneself so as not to be excluded out of marriage market, but rather an strong orientation toward higher income to become more subjective in marriage. Both men and women indicate a preference for partners with economically attractive traits (Bulcroft & Bulcroft, 1993; South, 1991). Although it is argued that women who has a strong orientation toward work or has relatively high income may delay their marriage timing (Goldscheider & Whaite, 1986), they are more inclined to get married because they can reduce some economic burden formerly shouldered primarily by working men (Oppenheimer, 1988). Employment status, as well as income, is emphasized more by women when considering marriage timing than men (Bulcroft & Bulcroft, 1993). In contrast, a stronger orientation toward a career or higher income contributes to men’s marriage as soon as possible (Sassler & Schoen, 1999). As rich men get richer, they may become more selective because the importance of marriage diminishes. Poor men with poorer income will become less attractive in marriage market. Therefore, inequality in men’s wage may cause decline in marriage and delay in marriage timing simply by increasing the proportion of men at the tails of the wage distribution (Gould & Paserman, 2003).
4. Discussion and Conclusion
This paper focuses mainly on income inequality of migrants in coastal cities of China and its influence on their marriage timing. What inspired me to do a literature research on migrants’ economic condition and their marriage timing was that the class discussion gave some international students like me a feeling of exclusion. Such exclusion did not only generate from other people, but also from staying out of American culture, policies, and social welfares. I realized people pay much less attention to migrants’ situation, including how much pressure they face, where the pressure comes from, and how they respond to it. After reading much of the literature on this topic, I found income inequality remains in three dimensions. One dimension is that the overall income level of migrants in urban areas is much less than local urban residents. This is mainly due to most migrants’ lack of necessary knowledge in a highly industrialized world and government’s discriminatory policies on them. The segregated housing and labor market is another reason contributes to the income inequality between migrants and urban citizens. The second dimension is that the higher education migrants have received, they get more involved in local labor market and thus the higher income they receive. Research has shown that for local people, the earlier one leaves school, the earlier one gets married. However, for migrants, leaving school early results in a delay of marriage. One explanation to the difference of migrants and local residents in marriage timing lies in the different extent of difficulty in finding or keeping jobs. (Watson & McLananhan, 2009) The third dimension is that income inequality exists between sexes. The overall income level of male migrants is relatively higher than the level of female migrants. However, as urban feminist awareness spread to migrants, women concerns more about their economic independence. As a result, the income levels between sexes are prone to converge. Women who begin to work before marriage usually have relatively later marriage timing than those who marry first and then go to work (Watson & McLananhan, 2009).
Some problems need to be addressed. First one is the lack of education of migrants largely limits their range for job search and mate search. Behind this problem is a series of discriminatory policies towards migrants in China, including inadequate welfare and lack of social integration, which keep the migrants from normal city life. Globalization has brought both disadvantages and opportunities. It made the education problem of migrants a major obstacle, while massive foreign investment and factories open some jobs to them. According to National Statistics Bureau of China, migrant workers’ wage from 800 Yuan (about 130 dollars) per month in 2004 has risen to 1300 Yuan (about 200 dollars) in 2009. Rise in income means that people can spend more money receiving education and improve their economic attractiveness so as to become subject in marriage market. At the same time, it is necessary for the government to shift elite education model to citizen education which allows people of all ages to go to college.
Another problem is the restriction of migration and birth registration. Hukou System has been used as a tool to control the number of migrants in urban areas. However, since coastal cities in China are the only place that people can earn money, Hukou’s role becomes gradually negative. Migrants cannot permanently live in cities, social resources get more and more inadequate, and discrimination against migrants and overpopulation are also major consequences. As the development policies have shifted into inland cities, migration population has been successfully shunted in recent years. Efforts have also been put on mitigating discrimination toward migrants and low-income men who are squeezed out of marriage market. Policies on Hukou have modified that migrants who work in urban areas for at least three years and have reached personal income of 30,000 Yuan (about 5000 dollars) per year may transfer their birth registration to urban areas, have permanent residence right and thus enjoy full citizenship in cities. Moreover, as New Marriage Law has been enacted in 2011, women are responsible to take economic task before forming a family. This is to say no matter whom you are marrying to, you should put effort on affording housing and cars rather than giving the entire burden to men. This prevents women from only selecting rich men and taking marriage as a tool to improve economic situation. Both policies have mitigated discrimination toward low-income people and migrants in both labor marriage markets.