Marriages in China have hit a 36-year low

The number of couples who got married in China last year hit the lowest level since 1986, when the country started making this data public, contributing to the country’s rapidly declining fertility rate.

Around 7.6 million couples registered marriages last year, compared to 8.1 million in 2020 and 9.3 million in 2019, according to China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs. Overall, China’s marriages peaked in 2013, when some 13.5 million couples got married (link in Chinese).

Why people in China aren’t getting married

There are several reasons for the sharp drop in marriages.

To start with, the number of young people who can potentially get married is declining. While there were around 223 million people born between 1980 to 1989, only 163 million were born between 2000 to 2009, according to Chinese media, with the oldest among this latter group reaching the legal age for marriage now.

Then, the number of men aged between 20 and 40 — when most marriages take place for men and women — outnumbers women in the same age group by 17.5 million, according to China’s last census in 2020.

The ever fierce competition for jobs in China is also contributing to a delay in the age at which people get married, say analysts. And among young, educated women in particular, greater awareness of gender inequality is contributing to a growing disinterest in marriage.

“People don’t even want to get married, let alone having children…The dropping marriage rate, declining birth rate, and China’s worsening aging population problem are reciprocal causations for each other,” wrote economist Ren Zeping, an advocate of using economic stimulus to boost birth rates, in a note last year.

The decline in marriages is helping to fuel the decline in China’s annual births, which are set to soon be exceeded by annual deaths. Despite Beijing’s efforts to encourage more marriages and births among young people, including extending maternity leave and allowing families to have three children, these government benefits are largely provided only to married women. Single women face discrimination if they have a child, including difficulty obtaining an official birth certificate — though one Chinese lawmaker recently called for the government to reconsider its position on children born outside of marriage.

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