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Marriages in China drop to record low despite government push

Marriages in China drop to record low despite government push

The number of marriages in China last year dropped to 6.83 million, the lowest since records began in 1986.

Data released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs showed the number of couples tying the knot in 2022 fell by about 800,000 compared with 2021, beating that year’s record low.

China’s marriage rate has declined rapidly over the past 10 years, since peaking in 2013 when nearly 13.5 million couples wed, nearly double last year’s count.

Policymakers in China are increasingly worried about the stubborn downward trend in marriage – and birth – rates. Last year, China’s population shrank for the first time in six decades, leading to warnings that the country would get old before it got rich.

On Tuesday, James Liang, an influential economist who is also the founder of Trip.com, one of the world’s largest travel service platforms, published an article about China’s low birthrate “crisis”. Liang called for China’s school system to be shortened by two years, which, among other economic benefits, he argued would give women a “few extra years to start a family and have children”. Liang argued this could boost China’s fertility rate by as much as 30%.

Under the rule of Xi Jinping, who took power in 2012, the government has pushed an increasingly conservative social agenda that encourages women to marry young to rear more children.

But between 2010 and 2020, the average age for women to get married for the first time increased from 24 to nearly 29.

In 2016, China abandoned its decades-old one child policy, and is now encouraging women to have up to three babies. Local governments have introduced a range of policies to encourage people to have more children, such as free IVF and subsidies for second and third children.

The government sees strong – and plentiful – marriages as the bedrock for boosting the fertility rate. Some provinces now offer paid marriage leave of up to 30 days for newlyweds.

However, highly educated young women often “critique marriage as a patriarchal institution that oppresses women”, said Yun Zhou, a sociologist at the University of Michigan.

The incentives have failed to convince a generation of young people who are facing record youth unemployment and challenging economic headwinds. Thanks to China’s ageing population, there are also fewer people of marriageable age at which to have children each year.

The data also showed that the number of divorces dropped to 2.1 million in 2022, a slight decrease on the previous year. China’s divorce rate has been declining from its peak in 2019. That partly reflects the fact that there are fewer marriages. In 2021, the government also introduced a controversial law forcing couples to observe a 30-day “cooling-off period” before splitting, which seemed to have the desired effect in sharply cutting the divorce rate.

But the restrictions on divorce may also be putting people off marriage. Responding to the news about last year’s marriage rate on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, one user wrote that by implementing “artificial obstacles” to divorce, “young people increasingly don’t dare to get married”.

Source: The Guardian