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Marriage License Applications Fall to 13-Year Low in China

Jonathan Walker
Jonathan loves talking politics, economics and philosophy. He carries unique perspectives on everything making him a rather odd mix of liberal-conservative with a streak of independent Austrian thought.
Published: December 13, 2021
BEIJING, CHINA - MAY 20: A couple pose as they have their photos taken by a photographer before their upcoming wedding on May 20, 2021 outside the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. Many young couples in China mark the holiday 5/20 as one of China's Valentines Days. Fewer Chinese people are marrying. (Image: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

China has the most intrusive government in the world when it comes to family planning. Over the past several decades, Beijing has introduced several laws to curb population growth, including limiting how many children a couple can have. 

Though the communist regime has reversed its stance on the issue in recent years, the damage of such extreme population control measures seems to be coming forth as many young people are now reluctant to marry. 

The number of new marriages in the country has dropped continuously for the past eight years. According to the most recent data, only 5.9 million new marriage licenses were issued for the first three quarters of this year, the lowest in 13 years. 

“A drop in marriage will affect birth rates and in turn economic and social development… We are hoping to . . . actively create favorable conditions for more people of suitable ages to walk into marriage,” Yang Zongtao, a senior official at the MCA, said to the Financial Times (FT).

One main reason that is making marriages tougher seems to be the sky-high costs involved in tying the knot. A study conducted in five provinces discovered that the average value of engagement gifts, which includes housing costs, the bride’s dowry, among other things, has risen by between 50 and 100 percent in the past seven years. People now have to shed roughly $47,000 in expenses to be married, which is six times the yearly household income in these provinces.

Beijing’s one-child policy, which restricted couples to just having one child for multiple decades, has caused a gender imbalance, with the country having more men than women. This makes the issue of a bride’s dowry even worse since a shortage of women increases the dowry that men are expected to pay. Authorities in Ningling County have announced limits on engagement gifts in a bid to make marriage more affordable.

Over the years, women have become more educated and financially independent. As a result, many women today give priority to their careers and not to establishing a family. Traditional Chinese values focus on women bearing the burden of housework even if they are employed. Some women are put off by these customs which they view as burdensome.

“More and more young women are thinking: Why am I doing this? What’s in there for me? (gender inequality) is really making young Chinese females hesitate before getting into the institution of marriage,” Li Xuan, an assistant professor of psychology at New York University Shanghai who researches families, told CNN.

A recent survey conducted by the Chinese Communist Party’s Youth League found that around 34 percent of Gen Z youngsters (those born between 1995 and 2009) do not see a life partner as something necessary. 

Forty-three percent of women in the survey said that they are either unsure of marriage or would not marry. Younger people in richer cities are more likely to have a desire to stay single when compared to those from smaller cities.

State-backed Guangming Daily published a report on Oct. 8, lamenting that the willingness of women to marry is “significantly lower” than that of men. It warned that as China’s economy continues to grow, the number of youngsters who are not keen on marriage “may continue to rise.” 

In an interview with RFA, rights activist Ma Yongtao criticized the CCP’s policy on marriages, accusing it of focusing on protecting ruling class interests rather than addressing the issues of young people.

“Any CCP policy works for the interests of the ruling elite, and not on the interests of the general population… Back in the days of family planning policies, they wouldn’t allow people to give birth when the population was sufficient,” Ma said.