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Ambitious Survey Offers Window Into Chinese Society

Results just in from a pathbreaking survey reveal a wealth of information about everything from economic behavior to happiness in China.

Last April, interviewers with the 2010 Chinese Family Panel Studies survey dispersed across the nation to survey 14,865 households—a total that makes the study the largest of its kind in the developing world. Peking University's Institute of Social Science Survey (ISSS) has published a summary of the initial findings in Chinese. Two results are in keeping with a rapidly changing society: 10% of surveyed couples lived together before marriage, and the length of time couples stay married has been steadily decreasing. (China's overall divorce rate remains low at 3%.)

One unexpected result was that when asked to rank aspects of their life as important, a large proportion of Chinese cite family first. The share of people who list individual success as a primary driver lags far behind—a sign that development hasn't eroded traditional values as much as is sometimes believed in China. "That really surprised me," says ISSS Director Qiu Zeqi. "Modernization has led people in China to be individually driven. But still they focus on their families."

Elsewhere the picture is one of economic progress. Fully 84% of respondents own their own house or apartment. And expectations for the future are high: the vast majority of Chinese parents hope their children will go on to university, with 20% aspiring for them to earn Ph.D.s. All told, 57% of Chinese are optimistic about the future. The rural-urban divide had very little effect on an individual's expectations, with rural residents just as optimistic as urban Chinese.

The survey datasets are restricted for the year following publication. They will be made available to the scientific community at large on the ISSS Web site in 2012. Datasets will be translated into English at that time.