China’s annual marriage registrations drop at lowest since 1986
Published: Aug 31, 2022 10:48 PM
Photo taken on Feb. 22, 2022 captures lovers sharing a tender moment at a Marriage Registration Office on the special Twosday in Changchun City, north China's Jilin Province. (Photo: China News Service/Zhang Yao)

Photo taken on Feb. 22, 2022 captures lovers sharing a tender moment at a Marriage Registration Office on the special "Twosday" in Changchun City, north China's Jilin Province. (Photo: China News Service/Zhang Yao)

Registrations of married couples in China in 2021 dropped below 8 million for the first time since 2003, and nearly half of them were aged 30 or above, latest data showed. 

With the number of people at prime marriage age declining in recent years and late marriage trending in China, having fewer married couples is a normal phenomenon and within expectations, demographers said, noting that China is still a universal marriage society as the average age of first marriage in the country is much earlier than that in many developed countries.

But experts warned that more people tending to get married late would affect the multiple-child policy, or the latest third-child policy, which further poses a challenge to the population problem. 

According to the latest Statistical Bulletin on the Development of Civil Affairs in 2021 released by China's Ministry of Civil Affairs, Chinese married couples dropped to a record low in 2021 with only 7.64 million registering their marriage, the first time for the figure to be less than 8 million since 2003 and the lowest since 1986, when the ministry started to disclose the figures.

Compared with 2020, the number of couples who got married in 2021 dropped by 6.1 percent. The data showed that the number of marriages fell for the eighth consecutive year.

Among the married population last year, people aged between 25 and 29 accounted for 35.3 percent, up 0.4 percentage points from 2020, making it the group with the highest proportion among all age groups to get married for the ninth year in a row.

Meanwhile, 20 percent of people getting married in 2021 were aged between 30 and 34, rising by 0.7 percentage points from 2020, the consecutive second year for this age group to be the second-largest age group to tie the knot, followed by the age group of 20-year-olds to 24-year-olds.

People aged between 35 and 39 who got married in 2021 amounted to 8.7 percent. 

The proportion of people in their 30s and older reached 48.2 percent, a record high, up 1.7 percentage points from the previous year, which reflected the fact that Chinese people have put off marriage to a later time.

Experts have attributed the phenomena of fewer marriages and late marriages to the prolonged schooling years, the increasing pressure of life and work, and young people's changing concepts and attitudes toward marriage.

Yang Jinrui, a senior official on population at the National Health Commission, said on January 20 that the post-90s and later generations, who are the main groups at prime marriage age and childbearing age, mostly grew up and worked in cities and towns, and they have more years of education and face greater employment pressure. 

Zhai Zhenwu, chairman of the standing council of the China Population Association under the National Health and Family Planning Commission, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the trend of fewer marriages in recent years was normal. 

The expert explained that due to the relaxation of the one-child policy, especially in rural areas, a large number of babies were born from 1985 to 1990, who were marriageable between 2010 and 2014.

However, the number of births began to decrease since 1990 under tightened one-child policy, thus leading to a drop in the number of marriageable people from 2014 onward, he noted. 

Meanwhile, in the past decade, marriage in general has been delayed for several years, which means more and more people who are marriageable pushed back their marriages, the demographer said, noting this was another factor for the decline in the number of marriage registrations. 

But the average age of first marriage in China is much earlier than that in many developed countries, Zhai said. He noted that China is still a universal marriage society, and marriage may be delayed but the proportion of non-married people is very low.

Zhai warned that late marriage would lead to fewer births, thus affecting the third-child policy.

In response to the phenomenon of fewer marriages and low fertility, China has released a series of support policies in finance, tax, housing, employment, education and other fields to create a marriage-friendly and fertility-friendly society, as the country faces growing pressure from falling birth rates. 

In recent years, the total fertility rate has dropped below 1.3, and in the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25), it will enter a negative growth stage, according to a report released by China's National Health Commission earlier this month.

On August 16, a total of 17 Chinese government departments jointly released a guideline to encourage families to have more children.

Later on August 19, China's State Council, in another major move, approved plans to establish a joint meeting mechanism that involves 26 departments, aiming to further strengthen coordination in optimizing birth policy amid a declining birth rate.

Ensuring employment, increasing income, strengthening public opinion guidance, and encouraging age-appropriate marriage and moderate fertility are the most fundamental measures to deal with fewer marriages, late marriages, and low fertility, Zhai stressed.

In addition, the latest Statistical Bulletin showed that 2.83 million Chinese couples got divorced in 2021, dropping by 34.6 percent from 2020. Among them, 2.14 million couples registered their divorces at civil affairs departments while 698,000 couples got divorced by a court ruling or mediation. The divorce rate in 2021 was two per thousand, down 1.1 thousand points from the previous year.

China's Civil Code enacted on January 1, 2021 which stipulates a "cooling-off period" for divorce contributed to the decline in divorces among Chinese couples in 2021, demographers said.