Latest Figures Show China's Millennials Aren't The Marrying Kind

Only 20 million people born after 1990 are currently married, around half the rate seen for previous generations.
By Qiao Long and Chingman
Latest Figures Show China's Millennials Aren't The Marrying Kind A woman wearing a face mask amid COVID-19 concerns walks past wedding dresses displayed in a store window in Beijing, April 22, 2020.

Young people in China are increasingly ruling marriage out of their plans for the future, putting further pressure on the government's attempts to get them to have more children, according to recent official figures.

The country recorded a total of 8.13 million marriage registrations for the whole of 2020, falling for the seventh year in a row, state news agency Xinhua said in a recent report.

According to sample survey data released by the China Statistical Yearbook, the proportion of one-person households in China has increased year by year, from 13.15 percent in 2015 to 18.45 percent in 2019.

The civil affairs ministry reported that there are currently around 170 million young people born after 1990, with a male-to-female ratio of 54:46, yet only 20 million are currently married, meaning that the marriage rate in that generation is a little over 10 percent.

If the generation had reproduced the preferences of the preceding generations, that would translate into a total of between 35 and 40 million married couples, rather than 10 million.

Bi Xin, a sociologist who studies youth issues in mainland China, said there have been seismic changes in the way young Chinese people regard marriage in recent years.

"If their incomes aren't stable, then the cost of getting married and having children will be too high," Bi told RFA. "Some young people have no desire to get married, let alone have kids."

"Now, the government wants to encourage people to have three or four kids, but it's not going to be as simple as that," he said. "And right now, you're not allowed to have kids outside of marriage."

A new norm

Sociologically, more and more young people born after 1980 seem to regard their single status as the norm.

The average age of first marriage for women of childbearing age in China shifted from 21.4 in 1990 to 25.7 in 2017, according to the state statistics bureau, and that figure looks set to increase in future.

A person who works with young people, who gave only his surname Hu, said social pressures are simply too great on many people in China.

"The economic situation has put a huge amount of pressure on young people," he said. "It's not easy to find a job, so they can't raise kids and have no confidence in the future."

"A marriage contract has no value to them," Hu said.

Fears for the future

According to Bi Xin, low marriage rates could also reflect deep anxieties about the state of the nation.

"When marriage rates are high, then social stability will also be high: when marriage rates are low and divorce rates high, then the crime rate will definitely increase," Bi said.

"There could be even more factors leading to social instability in future, and there are dangers in an ageing population, too," he said.

Late marriage, late childbirth, and non-marriage have increased the burden of China’s elderly care, seriously dragging down the country’s finances and restricting economic vitality, according to a February 2021 article on the finance pages of the state-controlled

According to the article, China is on track for one of the heaviest pension burdens in the world.

"While giving young people the right to choose freely, [we should] reduce the numbers who marry late or not at all by addressing the fact that some can't afford to marry or have children," the article said.

It called for secure jobs and social assistance for married couples, with better access to housing, education, and healthcare.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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