Urban marriage rates in China in recent years have significantly decreased, according to recent statistics. China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs reported that around 7.6 million couples got married last year. Although this figure might at the outset seem like a large amount, since 2013 the number of marriages has continuously declined.
In a Communist Youth League Survey of 2,905 unmarried youths last year, 44% of urban women aged 18 to 26 said that in the immediate future they had no plans to get married; 25% of men responded the same.
The several reasons behind the decline
As China modernises, more young women and men are rejecting the pursuit of marriage and instead of seeking independence. For instance, many women see marriage as a ‘roadblock’ to achieving economic and financial freedom. More Chinese women and men want to enjoy affluent livelihoods instead of worrying about the several costs needed to support and raise a family. Indeed, the associated costs of hosting a wedding have rapidly risen and this has also heavily impacted couples’ decisions.
The cost of having a family is expensive in China. Owning property is often a prerequisite for marriage and amid surging real estate prices, buying a house or apartment has become increasingly difficult. Today’s youth have high expectations from their future partner, for instance, a marriage without an apartment and a car is often called a ‘naked marriage’. But even if one owns a property, for some, finding a spouse isn’t an ultimate life goal as they are concerned it will ‘tie’ them down.
Moreover, while Chinese women in cities have received better education and become financially better off, the willingness to get married has lowered. Women are becoming more inclined to first strive for a good career and gain a sense of self-fulfillment.
Aside from these factors, many couples are delaying getting married until they decide to have children. The cost of raising a child in the city is extortionately high and so many couples have become unmotivated to marry. Chinese media reports estimate that the cost of raising a child in a big city such as Shanghai until they’re off to college is estimated to be around 1.99 million RMB (that is approximately $309,025).
Further, despite the government’s efforts to allow couples to have three children under the newly amended child policy, their efforts have not yet incentivised couples to plan for a family. Indeed, the introduction of policies such as extended maternity leave and ‘baby bonuses’ have not spurred couples to start a family. Many Chinese feel that they are not ready to have the financial responsibility of raising children.
Aside from costs, another couple of factors that have contributed to the growing disinterest in marriage are the fierce competition for jobs and slow income growth. Analysts say that these factors have caused a significant delay in the age at which people get married as jobs have become harder to find and the cost of living has thus become less manageable. Further, there is a greater imbalance between men and women. In 2019 alone there were 104.46 men to every 100 women with a surplus of men particularly in younger age groups.
The outlook on marriage
The gradual reluctance towards marriage is likely to accelerate in years to come. However, compared with other countries China’s marriage pace may not be that different. The age at which people get married is increasing worldwide and when compared to other Asian countries, such as Japan, the marriage rates are largely similar. For example, in Japan, there were 4.3 marriages per 1,000 people in 2020, compared to China at 5.8.
From this perspective, the declining marriage rate is no cause for alarm. Anna Martínez, Business Development for Greater China, from The Courtyard Consulting company (an agency devoted to the international bridal sector) adds: “Although it is true that fewer people is deciding to marry in general, weddings still remain one of the most important social activities, an occasion to celebrate big way, and especially in Chinese society.”
[Despite] the notion that traditional weddings have to go big, what we can see is a trend of simpler celebration, usually in the open air, with more sleek dresses, with a twist in design. These couples are young, open-minded, and urban.”Anna Martínez
But as China also faces low fertility rates and an aging population it could raise even more serious socio-economic issues such as a shrinking workforce and low savings. Whilst the central authorities have put effort into encouraging young couples with supportive policies, the decline in marriage rates coupled with a rise in divorces and subsequent fall in births might result in an impending demographic crisis.