Hardly any Chinese people today are interested in getting married. Expect the flame of desire to grow even more weak as the nation ages and becomes less productive. This is why China’s marriage crisis is an existential threat to the country.
President Xi Jinping recently pledged to begin multi-pronged steps to address China’s dramatically dropping birth rate. Behind the dramatic rhetoric, however, is a genuinely frightening fact: new regulations are unlikely to be sufficient to halt China’s population slide. This is why.
Having a kid outside of marriage is still frowned upon in China, a country with a highly traditional culture. Marriage and parenthood are linked with having children. The communist country’s marriage rates dropped to a 35-year low last year. The dramatic decline in marriage vows coincides with China’s approaching demographic catastrophe. The lowest number of marriages since 1986 were registered in 2021 with 7.6 million. China is facing existential issues as a result of declining birth rates and a rapidly aging populace.
In reality, China’s marriage crisis has been a problem for at least ten years. The number of Chinese nationals getting married decreased by 41 percent, from 23.8 million in 2013 to 13.9 million in 2019, over a six-year period. Of course, there are far fewer people of marriageable age as a result of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) misguided one-child policy, which was in existence for 35 years (1980–2015). There were 400 million fewer births as a result of the policy.
According to CNN, China has also seen “changing attitudes to marriage, especially among young women who are becoming more educated and financially independent.” A growing number of women are declining marriage due to “widespread workplace discrimination” and “patriarchal traditions.”
We are sure some readers will scoff at the mention of “patriarchal traditions.” We do not blame you if you are one of them. We have been harshly critical of how the “p word” has been weaponized and stigmatized by many people in the United States and elsewhere. However, patriarchal customs in China differ from those in the United States or the United Kingdom. We have heard a fairly contentious Chinese proverb: “If you don’t beat your wife every three days, she’ll start tearing up roof tiles.” Domestic violence affects one-quarter of Chinese women. A wife is beaten by her spouse every 7.4 seconds. It is evident that Chinese women can be excused for considering alternatives about marriage, particularly if they were brought up in an abusive home.
There is an additional explanation why fewer Chinese individuals choose to walk down the aisle in addition to the violence. Living in China is quite pricey. Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Qingdao, and Nanjing are six of the ten most expensive cities in Asia, according to Mercer’s Cost of Living Index 2022. They are also the six largest Chinese cities. Hong Kong, which Beijing controls heavily, is the most expensive city in the world. It is hardly unexpected that more Hong Kongers are refusing to get married and start families. Having a child is usually the last thing on an individual’s mind if they are having trouble making ends meet.
So what, some would counter, the cost of living in cities in the US, UK, and Western Europe is similarly exorbitant. They are, indeed. The GDP per person in China, however, is less than $10,000. As a result, it is sandwiched between the southern African country of Botswana and the Balkan country of Montenegro. On the other hand, the GDP per person in the United States is $69,000.
We have been hearing a lot about China’s amazing GDP growth for years. But at the same time, we have not heard much about its underwhelming GDP per capita.
What are we getting at?
At least 90 million people are employed in Chinese factories at the moment. They might expect to make about 55,000 RMB (less than $8,000) per year. Even those in more renowned jobs have trouble making more than $16,000 annually. The GDP per person in China is projected to reach $28,700 by 2035. On a budget of $28,700, try getting married, paying rent, purchasing basics, and establishing a family.
Additionally, when you are jobless, it is quite difficult to start a family (or achieve anything worthwhile). Youth unemployment in China is currently close to 20% (compared to 8.1 percent in the US (read below)). Of course, China’s marital issues are not particularly unusual. The United States and other nations throughout the world are both dealing with their own marital-related problems. In the absence of a better word, China and the CCP are confronted with a challenge that is enormous, particularly in light of the fact that its economy seems to be taking the proverbial plunge.
Even with “continued broad policy success,” according to analysts at Sydney-based think tank The Lowy Institute, China’s “annual economic growth will slow to about 3% by 2030 and 2% by 2040.” We are informed that there looks to be a consumer confidence issue affecting China’s economy. Is it shocking at all? Whether they are 25 or 75 years old, the average Chinese person is battling to survive.
There is always a potential that the CCP will utilize its harsh social credit system to punish adults who choose not to get married and establish a family in an effort to alleviate the marital issue. The CCP may draw inspiration from its close partner, Russia, where people are now being paid incentives to get married and have kids. But common sense tells us that China’s marriage issue, which is quickly taking on existential proportions, would require much more than one-time payments and tax benefits. Although it is necessary, money cannot replace true desire. Due to the previously mentioned factors, hardly any Chinese people today are interested in getting married. Expect the flame of desire to grow even more weak as the nation ages and becomes less productive.
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