By Nicoco Chan
SHANGHAI (Reuters) -Victor Li is determined to get married soon, but like many other young Chinese grappling with an uncertain economic outlook, the well-heeled Shanghai entrepreneur isn’t sure he can afford to.
“It’s very expensive for us to get married, especially in a big city like Shanghai,” the 32-year-old said, as he took a break from a ticketed networking event for wealthier, top university-educated singles at an upmarket Shanghai jazz bar.
“In terms of financial ability, it actually puts a lot of pressure on young people, including me.”
As the world’s second biggest economy slows, an increasing number of people are opting to stay single, or delay marriage, due to poor job prospects amid record youth unemployment and chronically low consumer confidence, leading to a record slump in marriage registrations in 2022.
This reluctance to tie the knot is worrying policymakers grappling with a decline in births and a rapidly aging population in a country that was once the world’s most populous, and where marriage rates are closely tied to birth rates as unmarried mothers are often denied child-raising benefits.
China’s fertility rate is currently one of the world’s lowest, and official data on Wednesday showed the population fell for a second consecutive year in 2023, partly due to the plunging birth rate, accelerating a downturn that will have profound long-term effects on the economy’s growth potential.
Last year, President Xi Jinping said it was necessary to “actively cultivate a new culture of marriage and childrearing” to foster national development. Local governments have also announced various measures to encourage new families, including tax deductions and housing subsidies, as well as cash ‘rewards’ for marriages if the bride is aged 25 or younger.
Julia Meng, whose company “Julia’s Events” organised the Shanghai singles event, said an increasing number of people aged 35 and older had effectively “given up” on marriage.
Younger Chinese, like event attendee Jack Jiang, say they want to get married, but high housing prices, uncertain job prospects and the general economic situation isn’t helping.
“It’s not that we want to be single, it’s the urban structure, economic situation that have led to this result,” the 32-year-old entrepreneur said.
(Additional reporting by Xihao Jiang; Writing by Farah Master; editing by Miral Fahmy)