By K J M Varma
Beijing, Sep 1 (PTI) The number of marriages in China has hit a 36-year low with registrations of married couples dropped below eight million in 2021, the lowest since 1986, the latest official data revealed, adding to the concerns of the dwindling low birth rates and declining population which may touch negative growth by 2025.
Only 7.64 million couples registered to get married across China, the world's most populous nation, in 2021, the lowest since 1986, according to the latest Statistical Bulletin on the Development of Civil Affairs in 2021.
Compared to 2020, the number of couples who got married in 2021 dropped by 6.1 per cent. 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 per cent, 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.
Late marriages which have become a trend in China would affect the policy to permit three children which further poses a challenge to the population problem, state-run Global Times quoted Chinese experts as saying.
China permitted all couples to have two children in 2016, scrapping the draconian decades-old one-child policy which policymakers blame for the current demographic crisis.
Last year China passed a revised Population and Family Planning Law allowing Chinese couples to have three children in an apparent attempt to address the reluctance of couples to have more kids due to mounting costs.
The decision to permit the third child came after the once-in-a-decade census in 2020 showed that China's population grew at its slowest pace to 1.412 billion.
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 at the National Health Commission, said earlier 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.
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, said Zhai Zhenwu, chairman of the standing council of the China Population Association.
Zhai warned that late marriage would lead to fewer births, thus affecting the third-child policy.
In June this year a senior health official warned that China’s dwindling population will touch negative growth by 2025 and may continue to shrink for more than a century.
The growth rate of China's total population has slowed significantly and is expected to enter a negative growth during the current 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25), Yang Wenzhuang, head of population and family affairs at the National Health Commission, told the Annual Conference of China Population Association held in June.
Chinese demographers predicted that negative population growth will be the dominant trend in the coming years for a long time and improving the overall quality of the population and changing economic development plans are vital to address the problem, the daily reported.
"This is an inevitable result of a long period of the low fertility rate," said Huang Wenzheng, a demography expert and senior researcher at the Centre for China and Globalisation.
"It can be predicted that China's birth rate will continue to shrink for more than a century and the birth rate in first-tier cities will continue to fall. The third-child policy may alleviate some of the problems, but it is unlikely to reverse the trend in the short term," he told the state-run Global Times.
China faced a demographic crisis as its child births decreased alarmingly while numbers of old age population grew warranting the government to expand geriatric care facilities. PTI KJV SCY AKJ SCY