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LRCCS Noon Lecture Series | The Role of Assortative Mating in Marital Infidelity: Insights from China

Feinian Chen, Professor of Sociology, Director for the Hopkins Population Center, Johns Hopkins University
Tuesday, December 5, 2023
12:00-1:00 PM
Room 1010 Weiser Hall Map
Attend in person or via Zoom. Zoom registration at

Existing studies on assortative mating in China have primarily focused on its determinants as well as consequences regarding marital stability and quality. However, little is known about its effect on marital infidelity. Are those with similar characteristics more likely to remain faithful in the marriage? Are those who bring “more” to the marriage more prone to infidelity because they have the upper hand? Or, are those who are more dependent on the marriage more likely to engage in infidelity as a compensatory act? Using newly available data from the Chinese Private Life Survey, we examine the association between marital infidelity and patterns of assortative mating in the context of China, where educational homogamy becomes the norm but income hypergamy still prevails (men out-earning women). Our findings show a complex interplay of resources, status, and dependency in a highly gendered environment. We find that marriages in which the wife is more educated than the husband exhibit a higher likelihood of experiencing extramarital affairs than those marriages in which the husband and wife have similar education levels. Contrary to our expectation, marriages in which the husband out-earns the wife are more likely to remain faithful than marriages where incomes are equal. Results also show that there are some trade-offs between education and income. For example, among all types of educational and income pairings of the spouses, marriages in which the wife is more educated but makes less money than the husband are the most likely to experience extramarital affairs. It is worth noting that the observed patterns are mainly driven by the subsample of men, who on average are 1.7 times more likely to be unfaithful than women. Our study demonstrates the limited utility of classic perspectives on marital exchange and underscores the evolving and asymmetric nature of gender power dynamics in marriages in a society with a longstanding patriarchal tradition juxtaposed with changing gender relations.

Feinian Chen is a Professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University and Director for the Hopkins Population Center. She received her PhD in Sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2001 and was trained in social demography at the Carolina Population Center. Her research crosscuts a range of areas in demography, family sociology, gender, aging, and quantitative methodology. Her main research interests include intergenerational relations, women's work and family, population aging, and health. Her work has been published in Annual Review of Sociology, American Sociological Review, Social Forces, Demography, Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Journal of Marriage and Family, and Sociological Methods and Research. Her work has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Hewlett Foundation. She is actively engaged in research on family transitions, gender dynamics, and their health implications in the diverse contexts of China, India, the Philippines, and the US.
Building: Weiser Hall
Event Type: Lecture / Discussion
Tags: Asia, China
Source: Happening @ Michigan from Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies, International Institute, Asian Languages and Cultures