Reasons for marriage migration: The nexus of gender and economy
Researchers have found a range of often complex reasons for marrying a man abroad. It can be quite unplanned, as in the case of Filipino bar workers in Japan who find themselves in an environment that legitimates courtship with their customers (Faier 2009: 78). It can be a strategy for economic betterment, as with Korean-Chinese wives in South Korea — whether it is imagined within the context of marriage itself or as another ambition such as entrepreneurialism (Freeman 2005: 90, 97). Access to Korean citizenship can be part of the aspiration (Kim 2011: 4—5). Marriage migration can be a personal and familial plan: when concern for her children from a previous marriage prompts a woman’s decision, or when emigrating women expect and are expected to send remittances to the natal family, as are Vietnamese migrants whose decision to marry is underpinned by the prospect of earning money (Tang and Wang 2011: 434—35). Kim (2011: 11) cites the story of a 44-year-old Korean-Chinese divorcee who is in the process of arranging a ‘paper husband’ so that she may freely find a suitable husband once in South Korea. This woman’s initial marriage is a means to increase her choice of marriage partner.
Some women who married Japanese men through matchmaking were inspired to do so after setbacks such as divorce or resignation from a full-time job triggered their desire to look for a new life abroad (Nakamatsu 2003: 186). Their yearning for ‘a better life’ was not imagined merely in economic terms, but encompassed an image of the life of a middle-class wife: a caring husband, financial security and personal advancement such as a career in an affluent nation. Such ideals were expressed regardless of the women’s backgrounds, which included accountants and teachers, among other occupations (Nakamatsu 2003: 185). The impact of global capitalism and its cultural logics structures people’s border crossing (Ong 1999: 5) and shapes the desires of women (and men), colouring their perceptions of people in a particular locality in a gendered and economic manner. In cross-border marriages, men tend to imagine the women from lesser – developed regions to hold traditional gender values, while women may perceive the men in richer countries as having progressive ideas about gender equality. Men in Japan, for instance, are imagined by women in lesser-developed countries to be partners who can offer material as well as emotional fulfilment in marriage.
Women who seek marriage overseas may have been disadvantaged in the domestic marriage market, by having passed the ‘marriageable age’, being divorced with children, or having been brought up in a family without a father. In Vietnam, a high rate of female singlehood may be a factor influencing some women to look for marriage abroad (Belanger and Linh 2011: 60). These multifaceted personal and social reasons draw our attention back to the concept of the gendered geographies of power (Mahler and Pessar 2006: 42—43), where no single reason, neither economic oppression nor patriarchal domination, encompasses all the reasons for women’s migration. In its gendered heterosexual construction, marriage migration favours women. It gives them opportunities, real or imagined, to explore avenues to work with gendered social and economic situations that have affected their lives. If cross-border marriage is promoted as providing ‘ordinary happiness’ for men, for women it offers adventure, which may bring expected and unexpected consequences.