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Marriage numbers fall again in China, worrying officials


Marriage numbers fall again in China, worrying officials

Civil marriage ceremonies in China are known for being impersonal, no-frills affairs. But now several provinces have streamlined the process even further with the introduction of self-service terminals.

The new machines – similar to self-service check-ins at airport terminals – verify the couple’s documents and then upload their information into the marriage registry.

The newly weds are then handed a marriage certificate by a loitering official – which is technically the point at which their union is confirmed. The new devices, introduced in the provinces of Jiangsu and Liaoning, as well as the cities of Nanjing and Dalian, are part of a wider drive to make marriage easier, as fewer Chinese are opting to wed.

“It’s as convenient as buying a train ticket,” the Global Times quoted one marriage official from Jiangsu as saying.

The rollout of the terminals comes as statistics for 2020 show another precipitous drop in the number of Chinese tying the knot.

According to Tsinghua’s Evergrande Research Institute, 12.3% fewer Chinese got married in 2020. Of course, the steepness of the decline is partly due to the pandemic, but it fits within a longer standing trend. The year before, registrations of marriages fell 8.4%, the research institute said, and the number of people getting married for the first time decreased by over 40% between 2013 and 2019, according to government data.

The Evergrande Research Institute listed four main reasons for the decline in marriage numbers. Firstly, there are simply fewer people of marriageable age compared to 10 years ago. This is a result of the One-Child Policy and other government attempts to limit population growth in the latter decades of the last century.

Secondly, tens of millions more women are better educated and enjoying better career prospects. At the same time, traditional gender roles still prevail, meaning many women feel they are unable to juggle a life of marriage and motherhood with their careers.

Thirdly, the afore-mentioned past family-planning policies, combined with a preference for male children, has created a massive gender imbalance. By 2030 it is predicted there will be 115 men for every 100 women.

Additionally, there is a geographical disconnect – the ‘extra’ men tend to live in rural areas because they have typically inherited family land. Urban women, with a better education and a better range of employable skills, are hardly attracted by the rural life, meaning these men stand much less chance of finding a partner.

Lastly, many young Chinese say it is simply too expensive to get married and raise a family. “Increasingly young people want to pursue independence. They view marriage as a form of bondage,” the report said.

The study also called on the government to “immediately” allow couples to have three children, saying the “population situation is urgent”. The current limit is two per couple.

The report also asked the government to lessen the burden of marriage and child rearing by making housing and education more affordable and doing more to safeguard womens’ jobs if they take a career break to have children.

It also suggested tax breaks should be offered to those companies which employ a higher proportion of women, so the employers can bear the cost of maternity leave more easily. In the past, many of these companies have introduced quotas on how many staff can go on maternity leave at any one time.

The report urges the government to take swift action as the number of marriageable, fertile women is decreasing every year, meaning that reversing these trends will be harder in future. Yet even as most demographers call for China to liberalise its fertility policies further, the country still makes it extremely hard for single women to have children (see WiC421). It also prevents unmarried women from fertility treatments that might allow them to get married and have children later in life. For instance, a recent statement from the National Health Commission reaffirmed that unmarried women could not harvest and freeze their eggs in China and that the commission might seek to enshrine that regulation in law.

Unmarried men are permitted to freeze their sperm for later use, under regulations designed to foster the development of sperm banks, however.

The commission has defended its policy for unmarried women, saying it is designed to prevent the sale of eggs or the use of surrogates – both illegal in China. But women affected by the ban are still unimpressed. “They just want to force us to get married and have children early,” countered one Sina Weibo user. “Why are they making us choose between our careers and our future fertility, when we could have both?” asked another.

Netizens were also irritated by another ruling by a Beijing court last week that an ex-husband should pay his former wife for the housework and childcare she did during their marriage. Some women applauded the court’s attempt to recognise the woman’s contribution to the marriage. But others said the figure – Rmb50,000 for five years of work – was far too low.

The court ordered the payment because of a new civil code that governs personal rights, family and contract law, which came into force on January 1.

“The new provision recognises the value of housework whether you are a full-time wife doing housework completely at home or a professional woman doing both housework. As long as you do more housework, you can ask for compensation at the time of divorce,” QQ News said.

On average Chinese men do 30% less housework than their wives, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

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