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China: More young people reject marriage

Yuchen Li in Taipei
July 3, 2023

Despite government incentives, high youth unemployment and financial stress are keeping young people from choosing to marry and start families.

A man in a suit and a woman in a big red dress
Are scenes like this becoming rare in China? Studies show more people are putting off marriageImage: JADE GAO/AFP/Getty Images

For 29-year-old Jingyi Hou, a schoolteacher in China's northern Shanxi province, marriage is not a priority.

Despite her parents' persistence in arranging around 20 blind dates for her over the past three years, Jingyi remains single and feels no urgency to find a marriage partner.

"Marriage is about freedom. Not everyone needs to get married as soon as possible," she told DW.

And Jingyi is not alone. According to a report published by China's Ministry of Civil Affairs in June, the number of marriage registrations across the country was the lowest in 37 years, following eight years of decline. Only 6.83 million couples tied the knot in the Asian nation last year.

In China, an increasing number of young people, especially women born in the 1990s and 2000s, have become indifferent to the societal expectation of marrying early.

According to the latest China Census Yearbook, the average age of first marriages in the country in 2020 was 28.6, nearly four years older than in 2010.

Why do women in China especially resist marriage?

Ye Liu, a senior lecturer at the Lau China Institute at King's College London, told DW that gender inequality remains deeply ingrained in Chinese workplaces. This includes discriminatory gender quotas and the evaluation of female candidates based on the likelihood of pregnancy and the need for maternity leave.

China's unemployed youth

This has forced many young women to choose between their careers and starting a family.

"When women spent a longer time in education, naturally they delay the age of entering marriage and parenthood," said Ye.

Christa, who spoke to DW on the condition of using a pseudonym, said "marriage is not necessary."

"I believe that getting married will impact my achievements, especially my career," added the 25-year-old, who works as a project manager for a manufacturing firm in China.

Young Chinese struggle financially

China's recent economic downturn has also contributed to the lack of interest in marriage among young people.

In 2023, China's youth unemployment — which represents those aged between 16 and 24 years — reached a record-high 20.8%.

Shan Shan, a Chinese woman who prefers to be identified by her nickname, told DW that it is difficult to make a living in the current job market. The stress of job hunting has left her with no energy to contemplate marriage.

Similarly, Xiao Gang, a software engineer, told DW also using a pseudonym, that widespread layoffs in the tech industry drive him to work overtime regularly out of fear of being fired. "When friends invite me to hang out with girls, I simply don't have the energy to go out," he said.

China fights looming demography problems

As young Chinese become increasingly reluctant to marry, the country's birth rate continues to drop.

According to Human Rights Watch, the total fertility rate in China has decreased from 2.6 births per woman in the late 1980s to 1.15 in 2021.

Furthermore, last year marked China's first population decline since 1961, when a devastating famine resulted in more deaths than births.

"China is entering a severe demographic crisis… becoming more and more so a demographically old country," said Dudley Poston, an emeritus professor of sociology at Texas A&M University.

He added that the median age of the Chinese population is now 38-years-old. In India, which earlier this year was projected by the UN to overtake China as the world's most populous country, the average age is 28.

In May, China's Family Planning Association launched pilot projects in over 20 cities to provide housing, tax and education benefits to families with two or more children.

But the government's efforts have been met with widespread cynicism on social media, with few young adults viewing the schemes as helpful.

"I think it is ridiculous. A lot of young people like me are facing a difficult time getting a job," Christa said, adding that why would people want to start a family when they can barely take care of themselves financially.

How China deals with its aging population

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that China's population declined in 2003 due to a respiratory virus outbreak. However, the population decline at that time was only limited to Beijing. 

DW's Wen Liu contributed to this report.

Edited by: Wesley Rahn