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The decline of marriage in China

In 2022, 11.6 million people got married in China, a considerable decline from the 23.9 million people in 2013 and 700,000 less than the total in 2021. China’s continual decline in the number of people getting married is a reflection of changing societal attitudes.

Due to disillusionment with marriage, some of which stems from women’s traditional role of doing housework and looking after children, more people are choosing to stay single. The financial burdens don’t help either as people experience difficulties in buying a house and raising a family.

Yet the pressures to get married remain, perhaps in part due to China’s population declining for the first time in 6 decades. The term ‘leftover women’ or shengnu is used to describe women over the age of 27 who are unmarried in China.

An interesting aspect of Chinese society is that the accommodation of the bachelor can be used to judge their worth – perhaps it’s a good indication of the man’s income earning ability. The higher the house is, the better.

Now because many adults of a marriageable age still need financial support from their parents, the parents often help with funding the man’s home. This imposes a condition, however. The parents now have a say in whether the woman a man wants to marry is ‘acceptable’.

Parents in China can be very proactive in getting their children married. Parks are often used as places where parents can match their children. A mother will go to a local park holding up pieces of cardboard with information about the son; name, qualifications and job. If a parent even sees a woman who they think is suitable for their son, they may even invite the woman to see his home. Some potential marriages have even broken down because the woman’s property is bigger than the man’s. The man’s parents can be ashamed of this and won’t allow the marriage to proceed.

With access to the world at our fingertips, people in China are seeing a more individualistic approach in other countries. However the pressure to get married is so high that many gay men and women come to an agreement to have a ‘show’ marriage. There are estimated to be as many as 16 million of these cases (Source: Lecture, Love and Leftover Women in Modern China). On one side, there’s a struggle to choose what one wants as an individual, but people are still feeling the pressures to conform to societal expectations. Some people believe it is better to get married, and then get divorced, instead of not getting married at all.

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