The government wants young people to get married and have kids. They aren’t having any of it.
China’s marriage rate fell to its lowest level in nearly two decades last year, and experts think that the number will likely sink even further as Chinese people in Generation Z start to reach childbearing age.
New statistics (in Chinese) were released last month by China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs, showing that only 8.1 million couples tied the knot in 2020, a 12% drop from the previous year and a super-steep drop from the 13.4 million couples who got married in 2013.
Most Chinese media reports attributed the decline in marriage rates to a drop in the number of people of marriageable age after decades of the one-child policy, a harshly enforced system introduced in 1979 to curb the country’s population growth.
Although China relaxed its restrictions on births in 2015, allowing all married couples to have two children, many couples have not chosen to do so. To make things worse, the birth control program, coupled with an age-old preference for sons, has created an excess of 30 million males, who are facing a hard time looking for partners.
But beyond demographic changes, the declining marriage rate also speaks volumes about a shift of attitudes among young adults in China, who no longer see marriage as an inevitable milestone. And then there’s the problem of money: According to a survey (in Chinese) by Zhilian Zhaopin, a popular job recruitment site in China, 43.5% of the women who responded said that they didn’t want to get married anytime soon because they feared that marriage would “reduce their life quality,” whereas over half of the men who took part in the survey cited “financial insecurities” as the main reason they were single.
Also, it turns out, Chinese people aren’t super-excited about the idea of having children, either. China’s birth rates have been steadily falling for years now, mostly because — you guessed it — kids are expensive and a growing number of happy, independent Chinese women no longer think of a husband as a “must-have” in life. And to the dismay of many government officials who had hoped that the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders would lead to a baby boom, it appears that the opposite is far more likely.
Obviously, there are no convenient fixes to this demographic crisis. For instance, you can’t force people to get married and have babies. But in a frantic effort to save marriage, China seems to have found a viable solution to the problem, and that is to make divorce a lengthy, complicated process.