Only about one-fifth of a sample of marriages in Shanghai took place between residents with local "hukou" -- or household registration -- and migrants without Shanghai hukou, according to a new sociology study.
The study, jointly conducted by sociologists from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver and Brown University in the United States, and released this week in the Chinese Sociological Review, reveals how China's "hukou" system is creating wider inequality between migrants and locals, and between the educated and less educated in Shanghai.
The researchers used data from a 2013-population-survey in Shanghai, asking the respondents born in the 1980s about their own and their spouses' hukou and education when they first got married. The sample included 1,247 couples. Half of Shanghai's population comprising migrants.
The study found that when "hukou" intermarriage -- where one partner has local "hukou" and the other is a migrant -- happens, other socioeconomic factors are usually at play. Couples were more likely to involve a Shanghai husband and a migrant wife (14 percent) than a Shanghai wife and a migrant husband (6 percent).
Education also proved to be an important factor in marital decisions, with the probability of a migrant marrying a spouse with Shanghai hukou increasing with the migrant's own education level.
"It's a bit of a tradeoff," said Yue Qian, the study's lead author and assistant professor of sociology at UBC.
"If someone with Shanghai hukou marries a migrant, then their migrant spouse needs to at least have the same or a higher education level," she told Xinhua on Thursday. "Otherwise, it seems they have nothing to gain economically from marriage."
"In the North American context, hukou is very similar to having a green card in the United States or a permanent residence card in Canada," Qian noted.
She said the assumption is that most people choose marriage partners based on love, shared values and interests, but they've found that "hukou" status plays a major role in selecting a spouse in their study.
"We find a strong tendency for individuals to marry within their "hukou" group," she said. "In other words, migrants tend to marry migrants and locals tend to locals. This finding suggest strong... social boundaries between migrants and locals because they don't marry out of their hukou group."
Qian says the research shows the need for continued "hukou" reform. "China is in the process of revisiting its hukou system so a lot of the local governments are thinking about reform," she said. "We think that it's very important that policymakers are aware of the impact of the current system."