As China lifts its lockdown rules and the country gradually gets 'back to normal' following the outbreak of novel coronavirus and COVID-19, Bloomberg News reports that divorce rates have suddenly jumped as the quarantines caused unprecedented levels of interpersonal strike that was more than many marriages could withstand.
Arguments over money, children, household duties and suspicions of infidelity festered in many homes, driving many couples apart.
One Shanghai divorce lawyer said cases started climbing shortly after the lockdowns ended. The outbreak, combined with the Lunar New Year holiday, was just too much for some couples, forced to spend weeks trapped together, sometimes along with extended family, was just too much.
Shanghai divorce lawyer Steve Li at Gentle & Trust Law Firm says his caseload has increased 25% since the city’s lockdown eased in mid-March. Infidelity used to be the No. 1 reason clients showed up at his office door, he says, adding that “people have time to have love affairs when they’re not at home.” Like Christmas in the West, China’s multiday Lunar New Year holiday can strain familial bonds. When the virus hit in late January, on the eve of the festivities, couples in many cities had to endure an additional two months trapped under the same roof, sometimes with extended family. For many it was too much. “The more time they spent together, the more they hate each other,” Li says of his new cases. “People need space. Not just for couples—this applies to everybody.”
China only publishes data on divorce rates once a year, but there's been a wealth of anecdotal and preliminary indicators suggesting that the lockdowns led to a surge, as well as a wealth of data reports from individual cities backing this up. At this point, it's safe to say it's a nation-wide trend (or at least for the half of the population - 760 million - who were impacted by the lockdowns and restrictions on movement).
But more alarming, is that the situation on Greenland, where a "surge" in domestic violence cases led to a ban on alcohol sales, isn't isolated to Greenland, apparently. Across China, incidents of domestic violence also multiplied. The trend may be an ominous warning for couples in the US and Europe who are still in the relatively early stages of isolation.
Hopefully, we don't see too many couples re-enacting those scenes from "the Shining" in their living rooms. But it seems likely incidents will rise in the US and elsewhere.
Two provinces that reported sharp rises in divorce filings told BBG that simple trivial matters ended up becoming deal-breakers for many companies. In many cases, poor communication skills were to blame. It's just a lesson for individuals: Communication truly is critical for a healthy marriage.
The city of Xian, in central China, and Dazhou, in Sichuan province, both reported record-high numbers of divorce filings in early March, leading to long backlogs at government offices. In Hunan province’s Miluo, “staff members didn’t even have time to drink water” because so many couples lined up to file, according to a report in mid-March on the city government website. Clerks struggled to keep up, processing a record number in a single day, it said. “Trivial matters in life led to the escalation of conflicts, and poor communication has caused everyone to be disappointed in marriage and make the decision to divorce,” the city registration center’s director, Yi Xiaoyan, was quoted as saying.
As China's economy as grown, divorce rates have climbed, much as they did in the US during the 60s, 70s and 80s.
China’s divorce rate has been ticking up steadily since 2003, when laws were liberalized. More than 1.3 million couples divorced that year, and the numbers rose gradually for 15 years, peaking at 4.5 million in 2018, according to statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Last year, 4.15 million Chinese couples untied the knot.
Ironically, Chinese officials had hoped that locking up couples with nothing else to do for two months would lead to a mini 'baby boom' - of course, we've seen no shortage of speculation about a similar boom in the US. But these divorces are the first sign that the effect might indeed be the opposite: Instead of a jump in birth rates, divorces will skyrocket.
Unless that shortage in condoms lasts longer than we expect.