Changing attitudes among China’s young lead to falling marriage rates

Changing intergenerational attitudes towards family and marriage in China are resulting in fewer Chinese young people wanting to get married, couples marrying later, and rising divorce rates.

Several factors have contributed to this trend: China’s younger generation want to break from traditional attitudes towards family and pursue a more independent lifestyle. The growing costs of marriage and childbirth are also playing a part. Some young people are worried about becoming a ‘marriage slave’ (hunnü 婚奴) who gets into debt due to the financial burden of wedding ceremonies, mortgages, and other costs related to marriage. As a result, from 2013 to 2020, the number of annual marriage registrations in China declined from a historic high of 13.47 million to 8.13 million, according to the 2021 China Marriage Report by Evergrande Research Institute. 2020 saw a staggering year-on-year decrease of 12.2%.

Getting married later on in life is also increasingly common as individuals choose to prioritise their career and independence. Between 2005 and 2019, the proportion of those aged 20-24 applying for a marriage registration more than halved, dropping from 47.0% to 19.7%. The number of marriage registrations from those aged 25-29 rose marginally from 34.3% to 34.6%, while the proportion from over 40s increased significantly.

Simultaneously, China’s divorce rate has been steadily rising: the number of divorce registrations rose from 580,000 in 1987 to 3.73 million in 2020.

A falling desire for marriage has also coincided with a lower birth rate as many have decided that the financial burden of having a child is too great, or would rather focus on their career. This is creating a huge demographic challenge for China as it comes at a time when the country is facing an ageing population.

A growing number of brands are featuring intergenerational attitudes towards love and marriage in their campaigns. The struggle to get on the property ladder, which is seen by many as a prerequisite for a male partner, was highlighted in Beike’s campaign. Meanwhile, dating app Tantan’s Chinese New Year campaign displayed an experiment that showed the differing requirements for a partner between Gen-Z and their parents.

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