BEIJING: China has launched a campaign to check severe distress in its economic and social stability that may also pose a threat to Chinese Communist Party rule caused by a sharp plunge in marriage rates due to the one-child policy.
Authorities are now not only encouraging young people to get married; they are also trying to keep married couples together. The Communist Youth League, the CCP’s youth branch has picked up the task of matchmaking, holding mass blind dating events to help singletons find life partners.
Chinese officials said that plunging marriage rates are due to the one-child policy, a deliberate strategy introduced in 1979 to control China’s population.
According to data released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, China’s marriage rate plunged for the sixth year in a row to 6.6 per 1,000 people, a 33 per cent drop from 2013 and the lowest level in 14 years.
The data also revealed that the number of Chinese people getting married for the first time has also fallen by 41 per cent from 23.8 million in 2013 to 13.9 million in 2019.
The one-child policy of China was a move to limit its growing population that continued for decades, it ended in 2016.
The demographers had earlier warned about the looming population crisis.
The one-child policy has also affected marriages in other ways. Chinese families’ traditional preference for sons has led to a skewed sex ratio at birth, especially in rural areas. Currently, China has a surplus of more than 30 million men, who will face a hard time looking for brides.
The increased social and economic status of women has also made it more difficult to find a suitable partner for two groups at the opposite ends of the marriage market: highly educated, high-earning women and low-educated, low-income men.
It has brought a sea-change in attitudes to marriage, especially among young women, some of whom are growing disillusioned with the institution for its role in entrenching gender inequality, said experts.
According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, statistics show both genders are delaying marriage. From 1990 to 2016, the average age for first marriages rose from 22 to 25 for Chinese women and from 24 to 27 for Chinese men.
Both marriage and birth rates have dropped. Between 2016 and 2019, birth declined from 13 per 1,000 people to 10, a trend not helped by the fact women are financially independent and millennials have different values.
The plunge in the marriage rate has now become a major problem for China, i.e. the shrink in the working-age population since 2011. Beijing‘s working-age population shrank in 2014, for the first time in more than three decades, which alarmed the Chinese Communist leaders.
To overcome the crisis, the Chinese government ended the one-child policy, allowing couples to have two children. It went into force on 1 January 2016. Also, it introduced several policies and propaganda campaigns exhorting couples to have children.
State-run media is now lecturing couples that the birth of a child is “not only a family matter but also a state affair”. In cities and villages, propaganda slogans advocating for a second child have gone up, replacing old ones threatening strict punishment in violation of the one-child policy. The campaigns focus on the government’s resolve to keep new kids coming to get over the crisis.
Despite the relaxation of the one-child policy, marriages and childbirths are still falling and none of these policies and campaigns appear to have reversed the fall in marriage rates.