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    Uptick in Marriages After Years of Decline Sparks Hope in China

    While nationwide data is yet to be released, Shanghai and multiple cities in Jiangsu, Hunan, Shanxi, and Anhui provinces have reported increased marriage rates in 2023.

    Reversing years of decline, several major Chinese cities have reported an increase in marriage rates in 2023. This uptick was attributed to the release of pent-up marrying demand post-pandemic and increased migration.

    Despite this positive trend, experts warn that sustaining growth in marriage rates may prove challenging, and overall population decline — evident since a peak in 2013 — remains a concern. The government has rolled out a series of policies aimed at addressing demographic issues, including increased subsidies and enhanced childcare support, yet challenges in reversing the population trend persist.

    The marriage rate in the eastern Jiangsu province increased for the first time since 2019, with 453,852 couples marrying last year — a 10% increase from 2022. In Wuxi City alone, the number of newlyweds exceeded 30,000, a 15% increase and the first in five years, according to the municipal civil affairs bureau.

    Similarly, Shanghai’s Civil Affairs Bureau reported that 208,420 individuals registered for marriage in 2023, up from 144,096 in 2022. Cities in other provinces, including Anhui, Henan, and Shanxi, also reported more marriages in 2023.

    However, central government authorities have yet to release the full-year marriage figures for 2023, which follows a nine-year decline since a peak in 2013. In the first three quarters, 5.69 million couples registered for marriage, marking a 4.5% increase from 2022.

    In Liuyang, a county in Changsha, the provincial capital of central China’s Hunan, the marriage rate increased for the first time since 2015. Wu Jian, an official from the civil affairs bureau, told local media that the end of the pandemic allowed many to proceed with marriages that had been postponed. Wu added that the province’s pro-child policies of recent years have, to some extent, positively impacted growth.

    Ren Yuan, a professor of demography at Fudan University in Shanghai, attributed the rebound in major cities to increased migration. “In cities and some provinces with a growing population, most migrants are youngsters. Therefore, their marriage rate and number of marriages annually will be relatively higher,” he told Sixth Tone.

    However, Ren does not anticipate this trend to extend nationally in 2024. Pointing to the consistent birth population decline from 1990 to 2000, he underscored that it is “highly likely” that both marriage rates and the number of marriages annually will continue to decrease in the coming years.

    In 2023, China’s overall population continued to decline, following the first instance of negative growth in over six decades in 2022. Last year, the country saw 9.02 million births, the lowest since 2017, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

    At a high-level economic meeting last year, state officials committed to enhancing the childbirth and childcare support system, including allocating more funds to create additional childcare facilities and strengthening policy support.

    In recent years, authorities at all levels have introduced several initiatives aimed at reducing the burdens of childbirth and parenting. These efforts include subsidies for families with multiple children, extended parental leave, and tax rebates for property purchases.

    According to a report by the domestic think-tank YuWa Population Research, a modest increase in China’s overall population is likely in 2024. This is driven by factors such as pent-up demand for childbirth during the pandemic, an increase in marriages in the first three quarters of 2023, and the auspicious influence of the Year of the Dragon, traditionally boosting marriage and birth rates.

    However, the report cautions that reversing the trend of declining births over the long term will be challenging due to the low birth rate and the decreasing number of women of childbearing age.

    Editor: Apurva.

    (Header image: VCG)