Despite policies to encourage marriage and childbearing, fewer Chinese are tying the knot, and those who do are doing so at a later age, government data show.
Last year, the marriage rate in China dipped to 7.7 couples per 1,000 population, dropping for the fourth consecutive year, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs’ newly released Statistical Bulletin of Social Service Development 2017. The rate peaked at 9.9 per 1,000 in 2013.
Of the 10.6 million marriages registered last year, 36.9 percent of the couples were age 25 to 29, the largest group that year, the report said. The same age group accounted for 35.2 percent in 2013. In 2012, the largest age group was 20 to 24, accounting for 35.5 percent of newlyweds.
The minimum age to get married in China is 20 for women and 22 for men.
The divorce rate also reached a record high last year, with 3.2 separations per 1,000 people, up from 2.0 in 2010, according to the report.
To divorce in China, a couple must register with their local civil affairs bureau. When disputes are involved, ending the marriage requires a court hearing. Of 4.37 million divorces approved last year, 669,000 required court hearings.
Policies have been introduced to encourage couples to start families, in light of changes to China’s family planning policies that had been in place since the 1980s.
Previous policies－which limited births to one child per family in most cases and encouraged delaying marriage－were scrapped in 2016 to counteract the aging population trend and shrinking workforce.
Authorities have been experimenting with incentives. The China Association of Social Workers, for example, launched a test program in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, in February to reimburse part of the expenses incurred when getting married, in an effort to boost marriages and, in turn, births. In China, it is rare for children to be born to unmarried mothers, and singles still face hurdles such as household registration in having a child out of wedlock.
Despite the prospect of marriage incentives and a willingness to marry, young people often are intimidated by the cost, especially the high price of housing, according to Ban Ma, who publishes relationship advice on a public WeChat account that has more than 500,000 followers.
In China, husbands-to-be are usually expected to buy a house for the couple to live in and also to demonstrate his economic prowess.
“But houses are unaffordable for most young people living and working in big cities. Marriage rates won’t likely increase unless the government issues effective policies,” she said, referring to subsidies and tax cuts.
Married with one child, the 30-year-old online writer said she thinks the increased independence of women in China also has played a role.
“More Chinese women are employed these days, and better career opportunities mean few would settle for a man who falls short of her expectations,” she said.