Two years ago, Joanne Su was anxious about turning 30 years old.
She worked for a foreign trade company in China’s southern metropolis of Guangzhou, earned a decent income and spent her weekends hanging out with friends. But to Su and her parents, there was one problem — she was single.
“Back then, I felt like 30 years old was such an important threshold. When it loomed closer, I came under tremendous pressure to find the right person to marry — both from my parents and myself,” she said.
Now 31, Su is still single, but says she is no longer worried.
“What’s the point of making do with someone you don’t like, and then divorcing in a couple of years? It’s only a waste of time,” she said.
Su is among a growing number of Chinese millennials who are postponing or eschewing marriage entirely.
In just six years, the number of Chinese people getting married for the first time has fallen by a crushing 41%, from 23.8 million in 2013 to 13.9 million in 2019, according to data released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics.
The decline is partly due to decades of policies designed to limit China’s population growth, which mean there are fewer young people in China available to be married, according to Chinese officials and sociologists.
But it’s also a result of changing attitudes to marriage, especially among young women, some of whom are growing disillusioned with the institution for its role in entrenching gender inequality, experts say.
In extreme cases, some even took to social media to insult wives as being a “married donkey,” a derogatory term used to describe submissive women who conform to patriarchal rules within marriage, said Xiao Meili, a leading voice in China’s feminist movement.
“This kind of personal attack is wrong, but it shows the strong fear towards marriage felt by many. They hope all women can realize that marriage is an unfair institution to both the individual, and to female as a whole, and thus turn away from it,” said Xiao, who once walked 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) to call for reform of China’s child sexual abuse laws.
The declining marriage rate is a problem for Beijing.
Getting young people to have children is central to its efforts to avert a looming population crisis that could severely distress its economic and social stability — and potentially pose a risk to Chinese Communist Party rule.
“Marriage and reproduction are closely related. The decline in the marriage rate will affect the birth rate, which in turn affects economic and social developments,” Yang Zongtao, an official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, said at a news conference last year.
“This (issue) should be brought to the forefront,” he said, adding that the ministry will “improve relevant social policies and enhance propaganda efforts to guide the public to establish positive values on love, marriage and family.”