Lowering marriage age won’t help fertility rate

By Wendy Min Source:Global Times Published: 2019/7/10 20:31:38

Photo: VCG

Why stop at 18? Why not lower the minimum legal age for marriage to, say 13? 

Let us all go back to ancient times because there's a firm and direct correlation between age and marriage as well as age and fertility.

The latest proposal by legislators was confusing. China is indeed facing a population challenge like many other nations in the neighborhood and the West. A common social problem has been the cycle of fewer citizens wishing to marry and have kids. The world is faced with a dwindling fertility rate with cost being the major factor. Is this in terms of money and/or time? Reducing the age threshold to 18 from 20 for women does little to alleviate more challenges that come with declining birth rates, rising incidence of divorce and lack of interest in marriage among young people.

China does have an ageing population and although behind Japan and South Korea, the dire consequences of falling birth rates and what this means for the future labor force along with how one can cope with an ageing population are alarming not only for China but also the region. 

The root of the problem doesn't have to do with age, but expenses. Living costs are on the rise across many Chinese cities. It is tough having half of your monthly salary going toward rent when you also have a young child to raise. Food, education, rent, childcare, utility bills, the list goes on. Despite doing away with the one-child policy which the country relaxed a few years ago, many families still don't find the idea of having two kids that attractive unless they are financially stable and can bear the cost that comes with another mouth to feed or (to put it bluntly) wanting a son especially if the first child is a girl.

If policies which cut expenses of raising a family by 60 percent are put in place, more people might be interested and more inclined to take that first step. Imagine the effect of cheaper hospital check-ups, subsidized childcare and tax concessions on having more babies!

This would persuade more to start thinking about having larger families similar to those of their parents' generation. Back then, one job was sufficient to raise children and put food on the table - now things have changed.

Also, lowering the age and believing that more girls will marry early is wishful thinking. 

Chinese women are tough and the most active bunch in the workforce. Eighteen is the age when many embark on their tertiary education to finish a degree and take a shot at their careers. What proportion would give up on that and settle down? I still feel the majority of young women would rather wait until they finish a degree than to marry young and have young kids. 

While simultaneously faced with more problems, the younger generation also has more choices. One can argue lowering this age will give more rights to be young fathers and mothers, which I agree. 

However, this does not mean more marriages than divorces and a robust supply of babies.

A whole generation has changed its mind-set and it will take more than just lowering the age or offering incentives and subsidies to convince more to start a family.

Looking at my two wailing and fretful nephews and realizing the monthly financial complexities my sister finds herself in is enough for me to delay starting a family. After all, I can barely look after myself well so the responsible thing for me is to wait until I'm ready.

The author is a freelance writer. She was born in China, raised in Australia, educated in China, Australia and France. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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