Women are driving the declining rate of marriage in China. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters
One of the greatest fears of Chinese parents is coming true: China’s young people are turning away from marriage. The trend is also worrying the government.
After a whole decade of increases in the national marriage rate, China witnessed its second year of decline in the number of newly registered unions in 2015, with a 6.3% drop from 2014 and 9.1% from 2013. This was accompanied by a rise in the age of marriage, which has increased by about a year and a half in the first ten years of this century.
The decline and delay of marriage in China is part of a global trend. The United States, most OECD nations, and Japan, have all undergone a similar process in recent years, as have other major Chinese societies. Hong Kong and Taiwan, for instance, both have much higher ages of first marriage than mainland China.
But in a culture that puts great value on family, parents are alarmed by even the tiniest likelihood that their offspring will remain unmarried and childless. They fear the breaking of family lineage, or that there will be no one to look after their unmarried children when they’re gone.
While the traditional practice of arranged marriage has been illegal in China since the 1950s, parents remain heavily involved in their children’s marital decisions. Many Chinese parents relentlessly try to persuade their children to enter wedlock through much-dreaded interrogations during festive family gatherings.
Some go to “matchmaking corners” where parents gather to exchange information about their single children and arrange blind dates - often without the knowledge of or against the will of children themselves.
Couples wait to participate in a staged mass wedding, part of a matchmaking event to inspire singles to get married, Shanghai 2013. Carlos Barria/Reuters
The Chinese government hasn’t sat idly by either. In 2007, the Ministry of Education publicly shamed women who were 27 years or older as “leftover women”, urging them to lower “unrealistic” standards during their search for a partner. While still alive and well in the public discourse to refer to both genders, the term “leftover” has been criticised by scholars and resisted by young women.
In 2016, the government cancelled the extra seven-day honeymoon leavethat had been granted to couples who married “late” (older than 25 years for men, and 23 years for women). The hope was that this would spur young people to marry (and eventually, bear children) as soon as possible.