The past three years have been tough for young people in China. Their unemployment rate is skyrocketing amid a wave of corporate layoffs. The tough coronavirus restrictions are over, but the uncertainty about the future they have created isn’t over yet.
For many people, the recent turmoil has become another reason to postpone major life decisions, contributing to record low marriage rates and complicating government efforts to avoid a demographic crisis. are making it
After years of ambivalence about her marriage, tech worker Grace Zhang spent two months barricaded in the government’s blockade of Shanghai last year. Deprived of her ability to move freely, she suffered a loss of control. Her optimism faded as she saw her lockdown spread to other cities.
When China reopened its economy in December, Zhang, 31, left Shanghai to work remotely, traveling from city to city in the hope that a change of scenery would bring back a positive outlook. bottom.
Now, with the economic downturn and layoffs increasing all around me, I’m wondering if my job is stable enough to support my future family. Although she has a boyfriend, she has no plans to get married anytime soon, despite being frequently advised by her father that it is time to settle down.
“This kind of insecurity in life will make people more afraid to make new changes,” she says.
The number of marriages in China has fallen for the ninth straight year and has halved in less than a decade. About 6.8 million couples registered their marriages last year, the lowest since records began in 1986 and down from 13.5 million in 2013, according to government data released last month.
More marriages will end in 2023, albeit with an ever-increasing number compared to the previous year.in the first quarter The number of marriages this year increased by 40,000 compared to the same period last year, and the number of divorces increased by 127,000.
A survey found that young people are deterred by the costs of sending their children through China’s harsh education system. As urban women attain new levels of economic independence and education, the economic necessity of marriage is diminishing for them. And men say they can’t afford to get married, citing cultural pressures to own a house and a car before they can start dating.
The instability of the last three years has exacerbated these pressures and reshaped many young people’s expectations of starting a family. China is tightening its grip on all aspects of society under its leader, Xi Jinping, and the impact could weigh on marriage rates.
“It is very difficult for young people to think about settling down and getting married if they are not confident about their future,” said Xijian Peng, a senior researcher at the University of Victoria in Australia.
In China, it is extremely rare for unmarried couples and singles to have children, and the decline in marriage has been linked to the country’s declining birth rate. China’s population fell last year for the first time since the early 1960s, when there was widespread famine.
The ruling Communist Party has carried out propaganda campaigns to encourage people to get married and have children, and even held state-sponsored dating events. The government is testing a program in 20 cities to promote a “new age” of marriage. One of the tenets of the new age is that husbands and wives should share the responsibility of raising children. This recognizes that Chinese women have traditionally carried an unequal burden. A local government in eastern China has launched a matching app.
But it’s not easy to deal with the insecurities that underlie so many people are saying no to marriage.
For Xu Binqiang, 23, a recent college graduate, the pandemic derailed his plans to study abroad in Spain and apply to graduate school in Spain. One of her professors is from Cuba and was unable to return to China to teach because of her travel restrictions. When the lockdown confined Ms. Xu to her dormitory, an argument broke out with her roommate. They mourned the loss of her education, and she had little outlet for her grievances, she said.
Mr. Xu, who now works at a bookstore in the eastern city of Qingdao, said the turmoil led him to take a more “conservative” approach and avoid big changes such as finding a lover.
“I don’t know if he will be a good person or a bad person,” Xu said. “I don’t want this kind of uncertainty to enter my life.”
Last month, the topic of marriage became a hot topic on the internet after a video of a man repeatedly running over his wife with a car after a domestic dispute was widely circulated on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. became. Many of the comments warned women not to marry. A recent Weibo hashtag on marriage refusal garnered 92 million views, with commenters citing the lack of protection for women under China’s divorce and domestic violence laws.
An analysis by Wang Feng, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine, found that the proportion of unmarried women aged 25 to 29 in urban China rose from 8.6% in 2000 to 40.6% in 2020.
Many men are postponing marriage because they feel financially insecure. During the government’s one-child policy, which ended in 2016, there were about 35 million more men than women in China due to a cultural preference for boys, increasing economic competition for marriage.
Xu Xi, 30, left a multinational technology company this year to join a state-owned company. He wanted more job security, even though he cut his salary by 50 percent and now makes about $28,000 a year.
After making the switch, he feels ready to propose to his girlfriend next year, but says he won’t have children because it would be too expensive. He said that even though China is getting richer, many people feel poorer, and this sentiment will inevitably affect workers’ attitudes towards marriage. Adjusted for per capita economic output, China is the world’s second most expensive country to raise children after South Korea, according to Chinese demographers.
“At the moment, we are still seeking stability and waiting to see what the economy will do,” said Xu, who lives in the southwestern city of Chengdu.
Until 2020, 35-year-old Erin Wang was optimistic about living in China. Then we saw the government take a coercive approach to the pandemic by cracking down on private companies, stealing jobs in the process. She became increasingly concerned about the authoritarian environment.
“I didn’t feel confident about having children in China,” she says.
Recently, she felt exhausted from her financial consulting job, retired and moved from Hangzhou to Shanghai to look for a new career. She hopes Shanghai has a more diverse dating scene than Hangzhou, and many of her socialites want submissive wives willing to sacrifice their careers to have children. there is, she said.
In April, she traveled across the United States, where she had previously worked for four years, to see if she should return. She’s in China for now, but she’s transferring funds to a foreign bank, researching overseas visas, and making an escape plan.
“I really want to get married, but I’m not going to die if I don’t have the right person,” she said.