Are mail order Asian brides still a thing or is the sun setting on this market?
Once a popular term in the 1980s and 1990s, mail order brides don’t seem to be as common as they once were. With the advent of the internet, online dating can now be done from the comfort of your own home and allows you to instantly connect with anyone in the world. We wondered whether this development has put paid to the services of mail order Asian bride agencies or if there is still an active market for this kind of thing.
In this feature we take a look at the history of the mail order bride and consider whether the market for finding an Asian wife is still common in the West. We also look at the reasons that men use a mail order bride agency plus profile some of the more popular companies that offer this kind of service.
What is a ‘Mail Order Bride’?
The term ‘mail order bride’ is one that refers to a woman who advertises herself for marriage. The phrase came about in a pre-internet age when these listings were printed in a catalog and used by international marriage agencies to distribute overseas to eligible bachelors seeking a wife.
Women generally come from developing countries and are seeking a husband from a developed country. The most common areas for this kind of coupling are between Western men seeking a bride from either the Eastern bloc of Europe or from Southeast Asia.
Though rare, men can also advertise themselves in this way and are known as mail order husbands.
A Brief History of the ‘Mail Order Bride’
The roots of the mail order bride can be traced back to the American frontier when the population of men who headed out West far outweighed the number of women who attempted the same journey. As a result, we already know that brothels enjoyed an exponential rise in trade but many men were desperate for more than just a bit of ‘slap and tickle’.
Seeking a wife to help run their home, a mother to raise a family with and regular female company these frontiersmen used the postal system to send advertisements back to the East coast seeking a wife.
Published in magazines, newspapers or church circulars these personal ads were usually picked up by runaways, divorcees and widows who saw the frontier as an opportunity to start their lives afresh. Some women, destitute by other means, could also envisage the journey West to marry a stranger as being preferable to suffering hardship in a familiar place. Of course, there were also women who wanted an adventure or who were simply wooed by the romance of it all!
Around the same time, the U.S. was also a popular destination for Asian migrants seeking work and these men who came to the country were keen not to do so alone. Advertising for a woman to accompany them on their emigration, it was common for men to choose a partner this way from their home country.
The economics of supply and demand coupled with opportunity quickly saw mail order brokers taking advantage of this situation and the ‘international marriage agency’ was born.
The market for men obtaining a spouse from overseas without meeting them first continued through the 20th century and expanded to include Europe as well as Asia.
In 1997, the U.S. Center for Immigration Studies conducted a review of the impact of mail order brides on U.S. immigration. The report suggested that around 4,000 to 5,000 immigrants that came to the U.S. each year did so as part of the mail order bride industry. There have been no formal studies on the market since this time but many observers believe this figure to have broadly stayed the same.
Though the mainstream Western media reported primarily on the migration of brides to places like North America and Western Europe, the practice is actually quite common within Asian countries themselves.
China has a long history of mail order brides although the market is more local than for countries like Thailand or the Philippines. Instead, it is reasonably common for rural men to select a bride from neighboring countries like Vietnam and Cambodia. Women choose to do so for improved living conditions, better economic stability and to escape abusive families. In return, the Chinese men appear to opt for a foreign bride in order to marry a woman who works harder.
Due to the falling number of women living in rural areas of Japan during the 1980s and 1990s, the Japanese government actively encouraged farmers to marry Asian brides from overseas. During this time, there was a high number of women migrating to Japan from countries like Thailand, South Korea, China and Sri Lanka.
Mail order bride agencies are forbidden from operating within the Philippines as a result of the Anti Mail-Order Bride Law (1990); the 80s saw a huge migration of Filipino women to the West and there was major concerns over their safety.
Despite this, there are plenty of operators who run romance tours to the country and thousands of women from the Philippines still marry foreigners every year. These agencies often run their businesses overseas or mask their activities within the country by offering travel agency services on the side.
South Korean men are also big customers of the Asian mail order bride industry and it is common for prospective husbands to visit neighboring countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Nepal and the Philippines to find a suitable wife.
In 2015, it was reported that more than 40,000 Vietnamese women had married men from South Korea in order to migrate there.
A study of the motivations for Korean men to marry foreign women came down to four factors, principally that non-Korean women:
- did not care about their husband’s social status, educational background or finances.
- would be more submissive.
- would make their husband’s lives more comfortable.
Another inciting reason was that the Korean men would not have to worry about having to have a relationship with their foreign wife’s family; the old mother-in-law excuse!
What is an International Marriage Agency?
Also known as a marriage broker or marriage introduction agency, these businesses serve to connect men who are seeking a wife with women who are prepared to emigrate for marriage to a foreign man.
Before the internet enabled men to find potential brides directly through dating websites, these agencies would collate the information of the women who registered with them to produce physical catalogs. Though this is now done online, international marriage agencies offer much more than a simple ‘hook-up’ service.
As well as making introductions, these agencies often provide assistance with translation as well as cultural instruction. Some of the larger agencies also offer travel services which allows clients the opportunity to visit the local area and perhaps meet several potential candidates during a single trip.
Known as ‘romance tours’, there are several companies that offer these trips.
Often based in developing countries, these agencies must adhere to the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005 when operating within the USA.
Why Do Men Use Mail Order Bride Agencies?
The prime motivations for both men and women remained unchanged with women seeking a life in a country that offers improved prospects and men obtaining a partner without the need for any courtship.
Despite many proponents considering this a convenient way for marriages to be arranged, there is much stigmatization over the industry, particularly for the men who seek wives. Often thought to be too ‘ugly’, ‘boring’ or ‘difficult’ to attract a woman in the traditional way, men who choose a mail order bride are often accused of exploitation and coercion.
However, the reasons for choosing a mail order bride for many men are simple. The process is quick, clear and efficient.
For many successful men, their careers take precedence over their personal lives and investing time in a relationship is simply something they are unable to do. This is particularly true during the ‘wooing’ stage when dating requires a lot of attention. They may have tried this in the past but have become disillusioned with the process.
The End Game is Clear
If you have limited time available for dating and you are serious about finding a long-term partner then investing in one person only to find out that they aren’t interested in marriage can be a pain. With mail order Asian brides, the aim for both parties is already established.
Shopping for Exactly What You Want
Using an agency or online catalog to find an Asian bride means you can quickly filter the qualities you are seeking in a wife and choose someone who fits your ideal. It can be an efficient and simple way to find a partner.
The Allure of an Overseas Women
Of course, one of the principle reasons that draw men to choosing a bride from overseas is a cultural and aesthetic one. Asian women are widely regarded as being very beautiful and are in high demand among some groups of Western men.
Coupled with a culture in which men are respected and ‘traditional’ values are adhered to, some men also prefer the idea of marrying a woman who shares these principles.
Marrying for Convenience?
Family oriented, loyal and hardworking are all traits that are associated with Asian women mean that many Western men are sold on the ideal without really considering the practicality of marrying a stranger.
However, not marrying for love is commonly the biggest problem that men experience after the novelty of a new wife wears off.
The internet is overflowing with cautionary tales of men who married an Asian bride but were left heartbroken, disappointed or (in some cases) ripped off.
There are plenty of reasons that people get married and this controversial method of arranging one will always attract plenty of criticism. For some, a mail order marriage is a halfway house between and ‘arranged’ one where you get absolutely no say in your choice of partner and a traditional courtship.
The Current Market for Mail Order Asian Brides
The market for mail order brides is still strong and there are many countries where women would rather opt for marriage to a stranger than take their chances with a local. Whilst some international brides that come from countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka, China and the Philippines choose to do so to avoid poverty, a rising number of mail order brides are simply seeking a ‘fast-pass’ to a new lifestyle.
In some ways the market for mail order brides is actually booming with The West still representing more opportunity for women, particularly those who are well-educated. For these ladies, using an international marriage agency offers some form of protection against time-wasters and potentially dangerous men as most of these brokers must undertake criminal background checks on their clients.
Whilst online dating sites might seem to offer a similar service, for those women who are serious about marriage and securing a foreign husband they are still the safest and easiest way to go about it.
Mail Order Asian Bride Agencies
In the age of the internet, most mail order bride agencies no longer issue catalogs to their clients but instead use an online presence to advertise their services.
Larger agencies often have offices in the local Asian area and can conduct interviews and screening processes to ensure that the brides meet a minimum ‘standard’ though this does vary a lot depending on the agency.
Some agencies also offer tours to the countries from which their brides originate. Known as romance tours, this allows their clients to meet and select from a large number of women before settling on a choice.
There are thousands of sites which offer introductions for foreign men seeking Asian brides but there are quite a few well-known companies.
A Foreign Affair
Founded in 1995, A Foreign Affair is one of the largest international marriage agencies and as well as running a matchmaking service also runs regular romance tours.
They principally seek mail order brides from Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe with clients coming mainly from North America (U.S. and Canada) as well as Western Europe (France, Germany and the UK).
Running 75 tours a year and winner of the Best Niche Dating Site 2016 the company can also offer dating coaching, city apartment rentals and translation services.
The site regularly receives over 1.3 million visitors each month and is certainly not suffering from a downturn in the mail order Asian bride market.
Though Rose Brides principally operates in the Russian mail order bride market, they also offer profiles of Asian ladies looking to get hitched too.
At the time of writing there were almost 10,000 women from across the region including Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos as well as Nepal, India, Indonesia and Taiwan.
Like A Foreign Affair, the site attracts a substantial number of regular visitors with a traffic rate of more than 1.1 million hits per month; again, not a sign of a dearth of customers!
Asian Brides Online
Though a much smaller outfit that Rose Brides and A Foreign Affair, Asian Brides Online does have the details of more than 40,000 women seeking an introduction for a foreign husband.
As with A Foreign Affair, the company also offers singles tours across Asia.
Transpacific Marriage Agency
A niche and boutique agency that specializes in matchmaking Japanese women with Western men exclusively for marriage the TMA has been operating since 1994.
Access to the profiles on the site is via paid membership which starts at around $240 for three months. This gives you between 80 and 160 profiles.
Mail Order Asian Brides: The Future of the Market
So, is the mail order Asian bride market dwindling? It would seem not. Instead, this market seems to have matured and fully taken advantage of the digital age. At the end of the day, this industry is one of simple economics; ultimately it comes down to supply and demand.
Gary Clark once wrote in his introduction to the Mail Order Bride Movement:
“Heaven is having a Japanese wife, a Chinese cook, a British country home and an American salary. Hell, on the other hand, is having a Chinese salary, a British cook, a Japanese house and an American wife.”
So, whilst the demand for an Asian wife perpetuates as an ideal among Western men, there will presumably always be a market for them.
Featured image via Flickr.
Interested in More of Asia's Hidden X-Rated Secrets?
We have published 14 country profiles, 18 local city guides, and hundreds of hours of research for your reading leisure. It's all 100% free. Get started with our quick links below...