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Submitted: 14 October 2010 Modified: 14 October 2010
HERDIN Record #: PCHRD10141012103756

Changing families in Southeast Asia: never-married women in Manila.

Joo Ean Tan

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This project is based on interviews with older professional never-married women in Manila regarding their views on family and society. As successful women in the modern sector of the economy, they enjoy both financial security and independence in their personal lives. However, they have come to be regarded as a social phenomenon because their unmarried state challenges universal marriage norms that continue to have a strong hold in Southeast Asia. The interviews show that these women are, overall, fairly conservative in their worldview. The family is one of the dominant considerations in their lives. They see the family as being a very important and dominant feature of their everyday existence.

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This project examines one aspect of the rapid social transformation that has been taking place in Southeast Asia, i.e., the emergence of older never-married women as a social phenomenon and how they are regarded by their families and by society. These women have attracted attention because they appear to be challenging long-held societal norms and values that continue to expect men and, especially women, to marry. Thus, these never-married women are part of the changing character of marriage and family in Southeast Asia.

The aim of this project is to investigate the impact of rapid social transformation on older professional never-married women in Manila. It examines where they locate themselves in their families and in society, how they define themselves within this context of rapid change and the extent to which these changes have influenced their social identities.

This project is an extension of a study carried out in 1997 that dealt with the status of older professional never-married women in two other Southeast Asian cities, Bangkok and Jakarta. Manila is one of the major cities in Southeast Asia. As a sprawling capital city in the region, Manila shares many characteristics with Bangkok and Jakarta such as being the countryÃÆ'Æ'Æ’ÃÆ'‚¢ÃÆ'Æ'¢ÃÆ'¢â‚¬Ã...¡ÃÆ'‚¬ÃÆ'Æ'¢ÃÆ'¢â‚¬Ã...¾ÃÆ'‚¢s primary city, the traffic congestion and the wide disparity between the rich and the poor. There is a sizeable modern sector in cities such as Manila, Bangkok and Jakarta where never-married women can find employment. There are, however, a number of important differences.

Since the 1960s, the Philippines has had a significantly higher proportion of older women who had never-married than Thailand or Indonesia. These statistics are included in an East-West Center paper prepared jointly in 1992 by Peter Xenos and Socorro Gultiano entitled Trends in Female and Male Age at Marriage and Celibacy in Asia. The numbers do not appear to have changed that much over the last thirty years in the Philippines compared to the two other Southeast Asian countries. This information is contained in Gavin W JonesÃÆ'Æ'Æ’ÃÆ'‚¢ÃÆ'Æ'¢ÃÆ'¢â‚¬Ã...¡ÃÆ'‚¬ÃÆ'Æ'¢ÃÆ'¢â‚¬Ã...¾ÃÆ'‚¢ 1997 article on The Demise of Universal Marriage in East and Southeast Asia. Thus, the present situation of the never-married women in Manila emerges within a socio-historical context that differs from both Bangkok and Jakarta. Also, the Philippines is a pre-dominantly Christian country while Thailand is overwhelmingly Buddhist and Indonesia is officially Muslim. Manila would provide a different perspective on social relations and family ties among the never-married women in Southeast Asia.

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