Vietnamese marry out of love, within socioeconomic class

By Phan Duong   March 6, 2023 | 08:46 pm PT
Vietnamese marry out of love, within socioeconomic class
People from similar backgrounds, especially educational or financial backgrounds, tend to mate, according to research. Illustration photo by Nguyet Anh
Phuong Linh’s family and friends were surprised she chose to marry Duc Manh, the least-wealthy of all her suitors.

The 33-year-old girl was born into a middle-class family in Hanoi. She is beautiful, smart, and charismatic.

As a young lady of marrying age, Linh had received several gentlemanly callers from good family backgrounds and high socio-economic status.

Her first relationship was with the director of a multinational company who came from a family of multi-generational intellectuals.

Although Linh was loved by her boyfriend's family, she felt suffocated and exhausted making sure all her mannerisms matched her prospective in-laws’ standards.

Things became different when Linh began dating her now-husband Duc Manh.

Manh had the same starting point as Linh: the two lovers’ families came from similar social backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles. Linh felt comfortable with Manh’s family.

"I think the old saying ‘the wind meets the cloud at the same level’ is the key to the good relationship between my husband and I," Linh said.

The well-known Vietnamese proverb about love suggests that you tend to attract others with comparable economic and educational levels as "wind" and "cloud" are metaphors for a person's socio-economic background.

In 33 OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) member economies, the average index of marriages between people in the same income bracket is 1.6, which is significantly higher than South Korea's 1.16 or Japan's 1.32, according to a research report by the Bank of Korea (BOK) published in 2022.

The closer the index is to 1, the more often people of different income levels get married.

The measure is 1.5 in Western nations like the U.S. and 1.71 in the UK.

The report is based on an analysis of household survey data from 2005 to 2019.

According to economist Park Yong-min of the Institute of Economic Research at the Bank of Korea, in developed countries, men with high incomes are less likely to marry women with significantly lower incomes.

Creating balance

With more than ten years of experience in the dating business, Vu Nguyet Anh, CEO of a high-end dating agency in Hanoi and author of the books "Hen Ho Kieu Ken" (Cocoon-Style Dating) and "Bat Dau Tu Dau De Het Mot Minh" (How to Stop Being Single), believes that socio-economic class is an important way to screen prospective partners.

Nguyet Anh’s system categorizes all profiles on the basis of education, employment, and marital status. This point of view has met resistance from people who believe that love is blind and based on emotions and feelings between two people. Setting such criteria is a too rigid, they say.

But Nguyet Anh argues that she’s just trying to take people’s holistic well-being into account.

"We understand that our customers are picky people and that when looking for love or a relationship, they have standards that they need to satisfy before considering other factors," Nguyet Anh said.

But at the same time, she says her team stands against dogmatism of any kind. In fact, some potential customers are even turned away if their demands are too rigid.

Nguyet Anh says one female candidate with a monthly income of about VND300 million ($12,699) tried to sign up for the dating service on the condition that she would not see anyone with a lower income. Another male customer required that his potential girlfriend's family must either have a career background in pedagogy or science research, she said.

"We refuse customers like these even if there are people who match their requirements."

Nguyet Anh says she always encourages customers to search with sincerity and an open mind, rather than sticking to a criteria checklist. Of course, family background does play a big role in a person's personality and compatibility with someone else, but it would be senseless to stick mindlessly to a bunch of standards, she says.

"A relationship too dependent on a criteria checklist would no longer be love, but just like job recruitment with a Job Description," the dating expert said.

Denise Sandquist, CEO and founder of several dating apps in Vietnam, believes that sharing similarities will lead to fewer arguments, however, there are more crucial traits for a successful marriage such as trust, respect, commitment and compromise.

"It wouldn't matter if you had the same socioeconomic rank if you didn't share these values", Denise Sandquist said.

Denise Sandquist says it's important for each person to consider what is her or his most important value. If someone cares a lot about money and social status, then those two are important criteria when choosing a life partner. Some people only want a good-looking partner and not much else.

"Love and long-term relationships are always complicated, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution," Denise Sandquist said.

Hai Anh, a 29 year-old secretary at a multinational sportswear company in Hanoi, comes from a well-to-do family and has many connections in the same social class, but she always gets bored dating within this group. Last year, she approached dating services with only one criterion: "a sincere, loving person."

She was introduced to two candidates. One is a young and talented company director in the medical field. The suitor said he loved Hai Anh's ‘feminine side’ a lot, but she didn’t want to pursue the relationship because "he would be too busy with work, while I want someone more family-oriented."

The second person works in the technology field and used to live and work in Japan for many years, so his style is quite simple. When they first met, he rode a motorbike while she drove a car.

After the first date, she felt affection towards him because he seemed honest and warm. The man liked Hai Anh too because she was exceedingly considerate.

After their first meeting, they talked to each other every day. Last lunar new year, both of them met with each other’s families and began planning a wedding.

"I didn’t care so much about his family background, but it turns out that his is quite similar to mine. When I let my heart guide me, I didn’t expect us to be so compatible," Hai Anh concluded.

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