Developmental idealism, body weight and shape, and marriage entry in transitional China

New trends toward later and less marriages are emerging in post-reform China. Previous research has examined the changing individual-level socioeconomic and demographic characteristics shaping marriage entry in Chinese adults. Employing a cultural model known as developmental idealism, this study argues that a new worldview specifying an ideal body type has become popular in the West and that this new worldview has been exported to China. This new part of the developmental idealism package is likely stratified by gender, has a stronger impact on women than on men, and has likely penetrated urban areas more than rural areas. Drawing on the 1991–2009 longitudinal data from the China Health and Nutrition Survey, this study employs discrete-time logit models to estimate the relationships between various body types and the transition to first marriage in Chinese young adults aged 18 to 30 years. Body weight status and body shape are measured by body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio, respectively, and further divided into categories of underweight, normal, and obese. Regression results indicate that larger values of body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio were associated with delayed entry into first marriage in urban women, whereas being overweight or obese was associated with accelerated transition to first marriage in rural men. Not only were these associations statistically significant, but their strengths were substantively remarkable. Findings from this study suggest that both body weight and body shape have important implications for marital success, independent of individual-level socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, and contribute to evolving gender and rural–urban disparities, as China is undergoing a rapid nutrition transition.