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What's your marriage worth?

The value of a marriage in the suburbs of Shanghai seems not to be worth more than USD 7000. At least, that is my conclusion after a funny story in today’s Shanghai Daily. In Luchao Harbour (in Shanghai’s Nanhui District) the authorities noted that in 2006 already more than 400 people had gotten divorced, although in 2005 the total was only about 100.

After some investigations they found that most people got married to someone from outside Shanghai right after their divorce. And these marriages in turn also did not last long. After divorcing again the original partners would get back together again and remarry. A very strange behaviour. But it turned out economic incentives were behind it.

It all started when a new town was planned to be built, and people had to relocate for that. However, if they did not have a local housing certificate they would not get an allowance to move. Because most people from outside Shanghai did not have this, the government decided that all non-Shanghainese would automatically get an allowance. So smart villagers figured out that if they divorced and married a non-Shanghainese they could earn some extra cash (about USD 7000, to be shared with the new spouse). And that’s what happened. Everybody participated, even a senile 91 year old whose family married her off to get an extra allowance. As the Shanghai Daily reported “she’s not even aware of her new husband’s last name”.

But the fun did not last long, because the government closed the loophole. Now marriages have to last at least 2 years before qualifiying for an allowance. One village lady had really bad luck. First she divorced her husband, married a non-local and divorced him again. But now she does not get the allowance anymore. And to make matters worse, her ex-husband now refuses to re-marry her!

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