Chinese leader Xi Jinping made keynote speeches during the 20th National Party Congress in October. He announced that he would launch measures to:

  • Optimize population growth strategies.
  • Establish a policy system for childbirth support.
  • Reduce the cost of childbirth, parenting, and education.

The sobering truth, however, is that these new policies may not be enough to stop the decline in China’s birth rate. 

Census data published in May 2021 shows that China’s total population has grown by 5.8% over the past decade—the slowest growth rate since at least the 1960s. 

It also shows the country’s workforce is shrinking. The number of people between the ages of 15 and 59 has dropped below 900 million—about a 7% drop from a decade earlier.

Let’s look at the 4 reasons why this trend will be hard to reverse.

1: Getting married—a waste of time

In 2021, according to CNN, the country faced the lowest marriage rate in 35 years. China is growing rapidly – but the workforce supporting its economic growth is shrinking.

Last year, China’s documented marriages raised concerns about the country’s future demographics.

China’s Ministry of Internal Affairs announced that there were 7.6 million marriage registrations in 2021, down 6.1% from the previous year, and the marriage rate decreased for the eighth consecutive year.

According to Chinese officials and sociologists, there are fewer young people in China to get married. But it is also due to changing attitudes toward marriage, especially among young women.

Joanne Su was concerned about turning 30 two years ago. She made a respectable living working for a foreign trade company in the southern Chinese metropolis of Guangzhou and enjoyed spending her weekends with friends. Su’s parents, though, saw one issue, she was single.

She said, “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.”

Su is still single at age 31 but she is no longer concerned.

She said, “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.”

More and more young people are shying away from marriage and having children. It seems like a burden to them. They choose to live together before marriage or keep animals like cats and dogs as pets.

2: One-child policy tragedy: hard to reverse

In July 2021, according to a report by China’s First Finance and Economics, 29 provinces released birth population data, with many observing a “precipitous fall. “The policy resulted in 400 million fewer babies being born.

The implementation of the one-child policy has resulted in negative consequences, including an imbalance of the sex ratio, elder-care problems, human rights violations, and undermining traditional values.

In 2016 China reversed its one-child policy, allowing couples to have two children.

However, there was no sustained rise in birth rates as a result. Couples resisted having a second child for various reasons, including financial concerns, a lack of daycare options, and worry about how it would affect their careers.

Dong Yuzheng, a population expert and director of the Guangdong Provincial, reportedly conducted an analysis that found numerous reasons for the birth rate’s ongoing fall. The policy of compulsory birth control has decreased the number of women who are in childbearing years and encouraged forced sterilizations and abortions.

3: Domestic violence is more frequent than one would expect

Modern Chinese people have a controversial saying, “If you don’t beat your wife every three days, she’ll start tearing up roof tiles.” Chinese women experience domestic violence at a rate of about 25%. Every 7.4 seconds, a spouse beats his wife. Understandably, Chinese women can choose not to get married to avoid suffering domestic violence.

Propaganda and influence from the communist fighting ideology have made the Chinese people no longer trust each other. Instead of respecting each other, they use violence to resolve conflicts. 

As explained by Asia Society, due to Confucius’s influence, men and women’s roles were depicted in terms of yin and yang. Thus, their differences were considered part of the natural order of the universe, not artificially molded by human beings; and there was harmony in that. Women were considered to be yin: soft, yielding, receptive, passive, reflective, and tranquil. Men were described as yang: hard, active, assertive, and dominating.

In traditional Chinese culture, a man was known as a gentleman in accordance with the virtuous way of governing society. The virtue of a gentleman was built based on kindness, decorum, uprightness, wisdom, and faithfulness. Traditional women are known for their dignity and noble manners. These values, nowadays, are hard to see in today’s pragmatic society.

4: The cost of living in China is the most expensive in the world

According to Mercer’s 2022 Cost of Living Index, living in China is incredibly expensive. Six of China’s main cities, Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Qingdao, and Nanjing, rank among Asia’s top 10 most expensive cities. 

Having a child is probably the last thing on someone’s mind if they are having trouble making ends meet.

A comparison was made with cities in the U.S., U.K., and Western Europe, which are also very expensive to live in. 

In 2019, China’s GDP per person was below $10,000. Meanwhile, the U.S. had a GDP per capita of $69,000.  

For years, we have heard about China’s impressive GDP growth rate. At the same time, however, we hear very little about its less impressive GDP per capita.   

Data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics shows the gap between low-income and high-income groups broadened to over $11,500 last year, rising from around $10,700 in 2020. On the other hand, high-income groups’ disposable income increased 6.9% annually in 2021. Behind the vanity in urban areas like Shanghai and Beijing, many rural workers living in these cities have troubled lives.

Currently, at least 90 million people are employed in Chinese factories. Their 1-year income is about 55,000 yuan (less than $8,000). By 2035, China’s GDP per capita is projected to be $28,700. Try to get married, pay rent, buy necessities and start a family for $28,700. Is it even possible?

Furthermore, getting married (or doing anything of value) is especially difficult when you can’t find a job. Currently, China’s youth unemployment rate is nearly 20% (in the U.S. it’s 8.1%). 

Of course, China’s marriage problem is not unique. The U.S. and other countries are also experiencing issues related to their marriage rates. However, the magnitude of the problem facing China seems to be greater, as it would generate an impact on an already weakened economy. 

Analysts at the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based think-tank, stress that even with “continued broad-based policy success,” China’s “annual economic growth will slow” about 3% in 2030 and 2% in 2040.”

In an effort to resolve the marriage crisis, the CCP may use the social credit system as a form of punishment for adults who refuse to marry and start a family. 

All in all, the extent to which birth rate growth policies will work remains to be seen.

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