How the Socio-cultural Context Shapes Women's Divorce Experience in Hong Kong

Winnie W. Kung*, Suet Lin Hung, Cecilia L.W. Chan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


The divorce experience of women in Hong Kong is examined in its historical sociocultural context. Traditional Chinese culture that emphasizes the centrality of family and gender and generational hierarchy strictly censors divorce. Since women in contemporary Hong Kong are also confronted with Western romantic ideals of love-based, egalitarian, and exclusive marriage, these traditional values cause enormous conflict over the divorce decision. While the trend of a more permissive attitude towards divorce is noted, greater social stigma is attached to divorced women. With economic changes in Mainland China, an increased number of Hong Kong men had extra-marital affairs in China, which in turn led to increased divorce rates in recent years. Migrant brides from China also led to adjustment problems for both spouses, with many marriages ending in divorce. A qualitative study of 35 women with a low socioeconomic status was conducted to explore their divorce experience. Families of origin from both husbands and wives exerted enormous influence on these women through their disapproval or support. These women experienced discrimination despite the social expectation of acceptance of divorce. Migrant women experienced double jeopardy, being stigmatized as new arrivals and divorcees. Formal social institutions also sanctioned against divorce through complex bureaucratic legal aid procedures and stigmatization of welfare recipients. Moreover, many social workers tended to be critical of divorce. This picture reflects the dialectical struggle between ideals of Western romanticism and liberalism and traditional Chinese Confucianism, and indicates the long process needed for social values to evolve.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-50+i
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Comparative Family Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2004

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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