China’s demographic crisis sees no prospects of recovery as the latest figures showed an increase in the number of late marriages, especially, in the rural areas. In a sharp drop compared to a decade ago, more than 50 percent of youth between the ages of 25 and 29 remained unmarried in 2023. The economic slowdown appears to be the reason for the pessimism among Chinese youth.
The 32-year-old Zhang Yu, who works in an infrastructure company, said he avoided big trouble by not marrying. “Marriage, childbirth, and loans for houses and cars are all liabilities, which are overdrafts from the future. When the economic downturn is obvious, if there is no source of income, we can only reduce expenditures,” he said.
According to the China Population and Employment Statistical Yearbook 2023, the unmarried rate for the ages of 25 and 29 in urban China has reached an alarming 56.9 percent. It is 47.4 percent for the rural youth. Covid-led disruptions, which led to salary cuts, job losses, and escalated professional uncertainty, could be seen adding to the reluctance among the youth to get married.
The reluctance and apathy about marriage do not blend with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s appeal to the youth about getting married and starting a family to overcome the demographic problems. The youth find the appeal for getting married as a government exercise to pent-up childbirths in the country. The number of couples who got married in China came down from 7.63 million in 2021 to 6.83 million in 2022– lowest since 1986.
Jessica Fu, marketing coordinator from Guangzhou City, said her cousin was forced to give up her career and be a “traditional” Chinese woman. “I don’t like what marriage does to people in China. But I choose not to get married,” she said. While modern lifestyle is one major factor for delayed or the trend of no-marriages in China, economic challenges appear to be the prime reason.
China’s National Health Commission acknowledged that high education and child-rearing expenses have caused the marriage rate to plummet. Yu Zhang, a 26-year-old lab technician from Shanghai who lives with his girlfriend, said buying a home and raising a child was unrealistic. “Marriage is kind of dying in China. The thought of getting married makes us more stressed than happy. The property market is not good and it is too expensive to have a child,” he said.
The unemployment rate crossed 20 percent in 2023, leaving many young people without jobs. This strengthened the trend of late or no marriages “In Chinese tradition, you start a career and then start a family. The youth unemployment rate has an actual impact on the family. It delayed the process of people having children,” Su Yue, principal economist at the Shanghai-based Economist Intelligence Unit.
The thought of high expenses after marriages due to economic instability is affecting well-off Chinese youth as well. Shanghai-based entrepreneur Victor Li was apprehensive about his capacity to afford marriage amid the poor growth outlook. “It’s very expensive for us to get married, especially in a big city like Shanghai. In terms of financial ability, it actually puts a lot of pressure on young people, including me,” he said.
The trend of late marriages is becoming popular in the rural areas of China as well. Young women from villages are migrating to cities in search of better education and work. And most of them do not return, disturbing the sex ratio said Dong Yuzheng, a Guangdong-based demographer. A report prepared by Chinese researchers from Huazhong and Xi’an Jiaotong Universities said “The likelihood of rural men getting married steadily declined during this decade, with rural men significantly less likely to get married than urban men.”
Moreover, high expenses associated with traditional marriage customs and expensive dowries have become major obstacles. “Very high bride price and rising wedding costs are a heavy economic burden on rural families, and men in some families that cannot afford to pay the bride price and wedding cost are forced to remain single,” said Jin Xiaoyi, professor at the Xi’an Jiaotong University.