Incentivising marriages: China’s new method to fix declining population

Chinese youth, China, Chinese students

It could be a unique move in China to fix the declining birth rate in the country. Last week, Changshan county in China’s Zhejiang province announced cash reward of 1,000 yuan (US$138) to newlyweds if bride is aged 25 or younger—an incentive for young people to enter into wedlock as larger number of them prefer to stay either singles or marry at later age, impacting population of the country.

Last year, China witnessed some 6.83 million marriages, marking around 10.5% decline from 2021 when there were 7.63 million marriage registrations in the country, said the East Asian country’s Ministry of Civil Affairs. This marked a record low since 1986, when China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs started releasing statistics, said Morning South China Post.

In 1979, the government-led by the Communist Party of China promoted late marriage and late and fewer births as part of its campaign under one-child norm. But since a peak in 2013, when over 13 million couples tied the knot, China has witnessed a steady decline
in young people’s preference to enter into marriages.

Fall in the number of marriages and marked decline in births, as the country saw its population shrinking in 2022 with just 6.77 births per 1,000 people—the lowest since the founding of Communist China in 1949, triggered a widespread concern about declining population and its resultant impact on the society.

In 2022, as per China’s National Bureau of Statistics, the country’s population fell to 1.411 billion, down some 850,000 people from 2021. The last time China’s population declined was in 1961, during a famine that killed millions of people across the country, said CNN.

Since the 1990s, China’s fertility rate has declined to below the replacement level of 2.1. It was 1.30 in 2020 and 1.15 in 2021. Several studies have found that rising costs of raising children and lack of welfare provisions have been key factors behind China’s low fertility rate.

To overcome the challenges of declining population, local governments across China have started rolling out a slew of measures, including cash awards and parental leave. In eastern China’s Zhejiang province’s Shaoxing city, authorities rolled out a string of measures in April this year and they included offering a gift package worth 1,000 yuan to newlyweds, extended marriage leave, maternity and health insurance, housing supply and tax subsidies, Global Times said.

“We clearly know that the situation of population development is still very serious and there is an imbalance between the supply and demand of fertility support policies, which exacerbates the problem of people not wanting children, not being able to afford to raise them,” Global Times quoted Zhejiang province’s Health Commission as saying.

Qixi Festival, which is often referred to as Chinese Valentine’s Day, was marked with young people in Xi’an, the capital city of China’s Shaanxi province, receiving text messages from the province’s Health Commission, appealing them to “get married and give birth at an appropriate age… carry on the Chinese heritage and share in the responsibility of national rejuvenation,” said South China Morning Post.

However, demographers feel that such measures are unlikely to offer any immediate
succour to China when the high cost of living is impacting youth and their attitude
towards life. In the country, an increasing number of well-educated and high salaried
urban residents prefer to stay alone, abhorring marriages and having kids as the cost of
living is high and working hours are very long in the country. This inclination is
particularly very high among youth of ages between 20 and 30.

A survey of 2,905 unwed urban people aged 18-26 by the Communist Youth League in October 2021 found that 43.9% of women had no intention of getting married or were unsure if it would happen, while 24.6% of male wished to remain single. To reverse this trend, the government-backed China Family Planning Association in 2022 launched a pilot programme advocating “a new concept of marriage and childbearing.”

This programme rolled out in several Chinese cities—focusses on motivating young
people to get married at proper age. Along with this, the programme encourages couples to share child-rearing responsibilities.

Besides, on account of the government and NGOs’ effort, the number of divorces among youth have also declined. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, 2.1 million couples divorced in 2022, down from 2.13 million couples in 2021. China has mandated a 30 days cooling-off period for people filing for divorce from 2021.

For the moment, however, it is the incentivisation of marriage among youth that is given a prominence in some cities and provinces. If these methods remain successful, China has a plan to follow examples of Changshan county and Shaoxing city in other parts of the country to arrest declining birth rate, said the Hong Kong-based English newspaper.

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This piece was written for Greek City Times by a Guest Contributor

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