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When Chinese No Longer Want to Get Married

{Editor’s Notes: “The Barbarian Warrior” (蛮族勇士-老蛮) is the pen-name of a popular writer known for posting numerous articles on a variety of topics on the Internet. He commonly analyzes data from official sources, offering the public his interpretation of what the data indicates. In the following article he explains how China is facing a severe birth shortage due to the downward trend in the annual number of marriages and a proportional decrease in birth rates. The following is the translation of the article.} {1}

Before discussing China’s marriage and birth rate data, let me first give two sets of data, namely the marriage and birth rate data of our Japanese and South Korean neighbors for 2013 and 2020.

Marriage and Birth Rate Change in Japan and South Korea
Year Japan South Korea
Population of Marriages Population of Newborns Population of Marriages Population of Newborns
2013 661,000 1,030,000 323,000 437,000
2020 578,000 873,000 212,000 272,000
Rate of Change -12.6% -15.2% -34.4% -37.8%


To be honest, the life of South Koreans is much harder than that of the Japanese. Although the younger Japanese generation faces difficulties buying housing in the Greater Tokyo area, and even invented the super tiny living concept – the ultra-micro capsule apartments – it is not too hard to live in Japan. The social welfare system is well established and the Japanese medical and pension systems are pretty good. In fact, the housing prices in the Tokyo area have not increased much over the past 25 years. The annual rate of increase in the price of housing in Tokyo even trails behind the inflation rate. Once you move away from the Tokyo area, housing prices throughout the rest of Japan are comparatively more affordable. With an average middle class salary, one can buy a single family home with a yard, in approximately 5-7 years.

Therefore, the Japanese still maintain a certain passion for marriage and the 12.6 percent drop in marriages from 2013 to 2020 is not outrageous.

As for the South Koreans, the younger generation is desperate. The South Korean chaebol system [where family-operated conglomerates carry political influence] is different from Japan’s giant financial group system. The Japanese consortiums have not completely blocked the path of ordinary young people from (moving up). As far as ordinary people are concerned, if they have enough seniority and make a sufficient contribution, they will naturally have access to upward mobility. However, in South Korea, even slightly decent job opportunities are controlled by chaebol insiders. At the same time, housing prices in South Korea, similar to prices in China, have continued skyrocketing. In the past three years, housing prices in Seoul rose by more than 50 percent.  South Korean housing prices are currently above RMB 100,000 yuan (US $15,400) per square meter. That price increase is similar to the price young Chinese residents are facing in China’s four largest cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. Buying a house on your own has become a fantasy. For areas other than Seoul, the average middle class needs 10-15 years of annual income to afford an ordinary apartment. In this case, it is easy to understand why the younger generation in South Korea refuses to get married. It is nothing short of a double punch in which a lack of career advancement opportunities is combined with the astronomical cost of housing. Therefore, between 2013 and 2020, the number of marriages in South Korea fell by 34.4 percent, far exceeding that of Japan.

Now let’s take a look at China. To relate the clear and shocking data more intuitively, I listed it in the following table: the number of marriages and divorces in China from 1985 to the present. The data sources are from the China National Bureau of Statistics and the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

China’s Marriage Statistics


Number of Marriages
(in millions)

Percent Increase

Number of Divorces
(in  millions)

Divorce Frequency
(Percent of Divorces in the Polulation of Married Couples)

1985 8.31 0.46 5.5%
1990 9.51 0.80 8.4%
1995 9.34 1.06 11.3%
1996 9.39 0.5% 1.13 12.0%
1997 9.14 -2.7% 1.20 13.1%
1998 8.92 -2.4% 1.19 13.3%
1999 8.85 -0.8% 1.20 13.6%
2000 8.49 -4.1% 1.21 14.3%
2001 8.05 -5.2% 1.25 15.5%
2002 7.86 -2.4% 1.18 15.0%
2003 8.11 3.2% 1.33 16.4%
2004 8.67 6.9% 1.67 19.3%
2005 8.23 -5.1% 1.79 21.7%
2006 9.45 14.8% 1.91 20.2%
2007 9.91 4.9% 2.10 21.2%
2008 10.98 10.8% 2.27 20.7%
2009 12.12 10.4% 2.47 20.4%
2010 12.41 2.4% 2.68 21.6%
2011 13.02 4.9% 2.87 22.0%
2012 13.24 1.7% 3.10 23.4%
2013 13.47 1.7% 3.50 26.0%
2014 13.07 -3.0% 3.64 27.9%
2015 12.25 -6.3% 3.84 31.3%
2016 11.43 -6.7% 4.16 36.4%
2017 10.63 -7.0% 4.37 41.1%
2018 10.14 -4.6% 4.46 44.0%
2019 9.27 -8.6% 4.70 50.7%
2020 8.13 -12.3% 4.33 53.3%


Let me explain the statistical decline in the incidence of marriage, observed from 1999 to 2002. It is a direct result of the layoff of tens of millions of state-owned enterprise (SOE) employees [during China’s economic reform to SOE’s]. Without a job, of course, couples will not get married. Since then, after China’s entry into the WTO, manufacturing industries from Europe and the United States have moved to China, and marriage statistics had begun to improve. Well folks, here comes the shocking data: after China reached the historic peak of 13.47 million marriages in 2013, the number started to drop sharply. By 2020, it dropped to 8.13 million marriages, a cumulative decrease of 39.6 percent! The decline surpassed not only that of Japan but also that of South Korea. I really don’t know how to comment on these staggering numbers.

While young people in South Korea are unwilling to get married due to the double punch of a complete lack of opportunity for career advancement and the impossible cost of housing, it is even worse in China. I won’t talk too much about the housing prices in China, In short, no matter what city you are in, the younger generation doesn’t expect to be able to save enough for a down payment on a house on their own. Then speaking of career advancement, from 2010 to the present, guess which employment sector continues to grow while others stagnate? Self-employment! The number of self-employed doubled from 44.67 million in 2010, to 116,92 million in 2019. The number of employees in other occupations, be it SOE’s or foreign enterprises, including private enterprises, enjoyed no growth whatsoever. In fact, this means being your own boss. Making express deliveries, or driving a Didi [similar to Uber] has become the choice career path for the entire next generation. What career advancement opportunities can they have? Why should they get married? The best solution is that every person tries to live well enough on his own and not disturb others. That’s it.

Folks, marriage is the basis of fertility. Chinese couples will usually have a baby about three years after marriage. The number of marriages peaked in 2013, which led to a peak in births observed in 2016, the highest in ten years, with 17.91 million births in that year. Well, this peak of 17.91 million newborns did not come about easily. It resulted from the peak number of marriages in 2013 and the switch [from the one-child policy] to the two-child policy for all Chinese in 2015. With the fall in the number of marriages since then and the baby surge due to the second-child policy petering out, the birth data would be expected to drop drastically.

As a result, a logical trend emerged. By 2019, the number of new births in China fell to 14.65 million, or a decrease of 18.2 percent from the 2016 peak. That decline is consistent with the 15.1 percent decline in the number of marriages from 2013 to 2016. In the data table for South Korea and Japan, we can also see this correlation – the decline in the number of marriages and the decrease in the number of births is roughly at the same ratio.

According to this logic, we can calculate China’s projected birth rate for 2023. It will be at least 40 percent lower than the peak birth rate in 2016 [by following the marriage decreasing rate from 2013 to 2020]. It may even be 50 percent lower if we discount the second-child policy effect [as it had maxed out after the baby surge]. This means that in 2023, China’s births will only be around 9 million. What does this mean? In 2019, the number of deaths in China was 9.98 million. As the population continues to age, the number of deaths each year will probably increase by another 50,000 to 80,000.

In other words, if the current situation continues, in less than two years, China will enter a state of natural population decline.

The only way to reverse the trend completely is to change young people’s reluctance to marry. It is not realistic to rely on the removal of any birth restrictions to promote population growth. This year, mothers who have given birth to a second child were generally over 40 years old. Instead, we must provide young people with a career path and lower housing prices to encourage marriage. Offering career advancement opportunities is such a challenge that nobody in the world can possibly make it happen. So, we will not talk about that. Let’s talk about the housing price reduction. If you read yesterday’s article that I published about the financial strength among 31 cities, if the housing prices are lowered, at least 24 cities’ finances will collapse, and the consequences will be beyond our wildest imagination.

Therefore, the only conclusion is that the number of marriages will continue to plummet, with new births following the same trend.

At the end of this article, let’s talk about divorce. I have used a new indicator for divorce. I compare the number of divorces with the number of marriages in the same year to examine the frequency of divorces. In 1985, the frequency of divorce was only 5 percent. That is, for every 100 people that got married in China that year, five couples divorced. By 2020, the frequency of divorce rose to 53 percent. That is, for every 100 couples that got married, 53 other couples divorced. The high frequency of divorce is alarming. If this rate continues for the next few years, among every two couples, one will divorce. The stability of marriage is based on social and economic stability. The lack of opportunity for career advancement combined with the housing price bubbles are precisely the most significant adverse factors affecting social and financial stability. If the current trends of soaring divorce rates continue, by 2023 the rate will exceed 60 percent. It begs the question. Why would someone want to get married? The hassle can be avoided by remaining single for life.

{1} QQ, “When Chinese No Long Want to Get Married,” February 25, 2021.