Should I Stay or Should I Go? Chinese Heterosexual and Non-heterosexual/Lala Women Envisioning Transnational Migration, Career, and Family Formation

Author: ORCID icon
Li, Yanbin, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Patterson, Charlotte, AS-Psychology (PSYC), University of Virginia

In this era of globalization, many Chinese women, both heterosexual and non-heterosexual, are migrating abroad, leaving mainland China for freer lives in economically developed countries (Kam, 2020; Li et al., 2019; Miles, 2020). In mainland China, Chinese women face pressure to enter heterosexual marriage to fulfill social and familial obligations (Kam, 2013, 2020; UNDP, 2016) and they face the left-over women stigma if they stay unmarried after turning thirty years old (Fincher, 2016). However, for Chinese non-heterosexual women, their lives have been restricted not only by the patriarchal Confucianist culture but also by the LGBTQ+-unfriendly laws and policies. While many Chinese non-heterosexual women choose to enter heterosexual marriage or to live a non-heterosexual life away from their hometowns in urban areas of mainland China (Huang & Brouwer, 2018; Lo, 2020), many other Chinese non-heterosexual women choose to move abroad (Kam, 2020). For both Chinese heterosexual and non-heterosexual women, while transnational migration could bring challenges, it also provides the opportunity to live a new life, pursue a new career, and to form a family based on their own authentic decisions in a new place, where they can escape the restrictions posed by the patriarchal Confucianist culture in the homeland.

This study explored Chinese women’s migration aspirations and plans and how they envisioned future career and family formation in this process. As the culture cycle framework states that cultural ideas, institutions, and individuals constantly interact (Markus & Connor, 2014; Markus & Kitayama, 2010), Chinese women’s aspirations and plans regarding migration, career, and family formation might be influenced by cultural ideologies, interpersonal factors such as parental support, and also their personal characteristics, such as sexual orientations. The first aim of the study was to investigate the demographic characteristics of Chinese women who aspired to migrate abroad versus those who wanted to stay in mainland China, and specifically, whether Chinese non-heterosexual women were more likely than Chinese heterosexual women to express the desire to migrate. The second aim was to test whether Chinese non-heterosexual and heterosexual women differed in their career and family formation aspirations and plans based on their plans to migrate abroad versus stay in mainland China. The final aim was to examine what variables (e.g., cultural influences) were associated with Chinese heterosexual and non-heterosexual women‘s aspirations and plans regarding migration, career, and family formation.

Quantitative data were collected in the context of an online anonymous questionnaire survey via Qualtrics. A purposive convenience sampling method was employed. The final sample included 876 Chinese women who were living in mainland China, were 18-35 years old, did not have any children, and were single or unmarried. Among the 876 participants, 461 self-identified as heterosexual women and 415 as non-heterosexual women (167 lesbian, 185 bisexual, 52 pansexual, 7 asexual, and 4 other non-heterosexual sexual orientations). The quantitative measurements of the survey assessed participants’ aspirations and plans regarding migration and family formation and the associations between aspirations and plans and potentially relevant factors (e.g., endorsement of Chinese and Western cultural ideas).

Results regarding migration aspirations showed that Chinese non-heterosexual women expressed stronger desires and intentions regarding leaving their homeland and migrating to another country than did their heterosexual peers. In addition, Chinese non-heterosexual women were more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to indicate that their motivations for migration were to live a freer life than in the homeland, for the more LGBTQ+-friendly environment in the destination country, and to marry a same-sex partner. Moreover, regarding pursuing a career abroad, non-heterosexual women were more likely than heterosexual women to indicate first becoming a student in the destination country as their most likely pathway.

Additionally, the results showed significant negative associations between aspirations for cooperative marriage and the desires for migration among Chinese non-heterosexual women. The fewer Chinese non-heterosexual women’s desires and intentions for cooperative marriage, the stronger their desires for migration. This finding potentially implied that transnational migration provided Chinese non-heterosexual women more freedom regarding their life choices (e.g., marriage choices).

Furthermore, results of this study suggested that Chinese women’s sexual orientation, interpersonal support network (e.g., social support from family), experiences with intersectional stigmas (e.g., left-over women stigma), and endorsement of Chinese and Western cultural values all might play a role in how they envisioned their future lives.

In short, this study contributed to understanding of how young adult Chinese women envisioned their future career and families in the prospect of migrating to another country versus staying in the homeland. This study also identified factors at individual, interpersonal, and cultural levels associated with Chinese heterosexual and non-heterosexual women's future lives across cultural settings, implying the importance of incorporating a perspective of globalization in research and practices to understand and promote the development and well-being of Chinese young women.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Chinese Women, Migration, Sexual Orientation, Culture, Career, Family Formation
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