For single women in China, owning a home is a new form of resistance

After she signed the contract for her new apartment in southern China, Guo Miaomiao, 32, ran through the mental list of what she would get to enjoy as a homeowner. A leather couch. A pumpkin pendant lamp. Guo is one of a growing number of unmarried Chinese women buying property – a trend that strikes at one of Chinese society’s most deeply rooted gender norms. For centuries, men have been expected to own a home to be eligible for marriage. For women, the home of their husband effectively becomes their only one.
Now, more Chinese women are demanding homes of their own. A recent survey by China Youth Daily, a state-run newspaper, found that nearly 94% of respondents approved of single women buying property, with two-thirds saying it signalled a desire for gender equality. While official statistics on the actual rate of homeownership are limited, one government survey in 2020 found that the percentage of unmarried women who owned property had risen to 10.3% from 6.9% a decade earlier. And the numerical bump was even greater, as the number of single women ages 25 and older had grown by 10 million during the same period.
The increase in female buyers is coinciding with intense turmoil in China’s housing sector. Many big and small developers have run out of money and left apartments unfinished, leading to a drop in housing prices and mortgage rates. On Chinese social media, property agents have begun targeting single women, posting promotional videos with hashtags like “a little house suitable for single ladies.” “It’s an awakening toward the rights of women,” said Wang Mengqi, an assistant professor of anthropology .
The shift is part of growing attention to women’s rights more generally. Though the Chinese government has tried to suppress feminist activists and organisations, topics such as #MeToo and the lack of domestic violence protections have frequently topped social media discussions in recent years. Alongside changing attitudes, practical changes such as rising incomes have also helped increase the rate of single female homeownership. In 2021, the number of Chinese women receiving college education overtook the number of men, according to official statistics. And the number of female workers in urban areas is up by nearly 40% compared with a decade ago. “I’ve seen too many cases, where the husband buys the house, and the minute the couple argues, the husband tells her to get out,” said Guo, who works at a technology company in the city of Guangzhou. “This gives me confidence that if I do get married, I won’t be afraid of anything. Even if I leave him, I can live independently.” NYT

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