China’s low birth rate is hit hard by the high costs associated with weddings

BEIJING – China’s problem with a low birth rate has been compounded by the high prices demanded by families of potential brides for traditional dowries. Chinese social media was recently stunned by the price one groom’s family was asked to pay, even leading to the story being censored by authorities.

The engaged couple in question saw their brief engagement collapse after the bride’s family demanded $163,000 for the privilege of marrying their daughter. Due to lack of funds, the couple was forced to break up.

“I always thought exorbitant bride prices were stories that only existed on the internet until it happened to my own family,” read the opening line of what was one of the site’s most popular articles. The writer’s uncle fell in love with a woman from Jiangxi province.

A Chinese bride in a traditional red wedding dress looks over her city before the wedding ceremony.

A Chinese bride in a traditional red wedding dress looks over her city before the wedding ceremony.
(Fox News Digital)

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The article went viral, garnering some 22 million hits, with many of the comments congratulating the groom and his family on avoiding the dreaded in-laws.

People react as their wedding photos are taken near the Forbidden City in Beijing on March 15, 2021.

People react as their wedding photos are taken near the Forbidden City in Beijing on March 15, 2021.
(REUTERS/Tingshu Wang)

The custom of giving gifts to the bride’s family has been around for hundreds of years in China, and although a 1950s law outlawed forced marriages and all forms of property acquisition, the practice has largely persisted.

China’s significant demographic imbalance has been one cause of rising costs. The communist nation ended its one-child policy in 2015, which has since left a surplus of 34 million men, with many families preferring a son to a daughter. In many areas, the average bride price can easily be five times the average annual disposable income, and financial pressures have led to it becoming a problem facing Chinese authorities.

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With a population of around 1.4 billion people, China continues to be the world’s most populous nation. However, as the birth rate has been declining for years, it is expected to hit a record low this year, falling below 10 million from last year’s 10.6 million births. In addition, China’s fertility rate was 1:16 in 2021, below the 2:1 OECD standard for a stable population.

A groom lifts a cloth covering his bride's face during a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony in Beijing May 15, 2004. Some young people in China are returning to their roots for more traditional weddings, moving away from Western-style ceremonies that had gained popularity.

A groom lifts a cloth covering his bride’s face during a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony in Beijing May 15, 2004. Some young people in China are returning to their roots for more traditional weddings, moving away from Western-style ceremonies that had gained popularity.
(REUTERS/Wilson Chu WC)

To combat the low growth rate, Chinese authorities have recently introduced numerous measures to encourage couples to have more children, including extended maternity leave and other financial incentives. Beijing also introduced a 30-day notice period for couples who wanted to divorce. Nevertheless, the desire to have more children is among the lowest in the world. According to the Chinese government, exorbitant bride prices are another obstacle to young people starting a family.

Recently, municipalities have implemented numerous regulations to curb excessive bride prices. In September, national authorities also decided to step in when they announced a nationwide trial campaign to “promote a series of standards” and strict rules on “rude standards”. The campaign will last until the end of the year.

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Expectant mother Li Zhao, 35, chooses baby products at a store in Beijing in October.  30, 2015. Li Zhao, a clerk who is six months pregnant, said the one-child policy is cruel because having a child is a basic civil right.  However, she does not want to have another child for personal reasons.  China has been dismantling its one-child policy, for decades a symbol of invasive and coercive government planning, but the change has been met with an indifferent shrug from many younger couples.

Expectant mother Li Zhao, 35, chooses baby products at a store in Beijing in October. 30, 2015. Li Zhao, a clerk who is six months pregnant, said the one-child policy is cruel because having a child is a basic civil right. However, she does not want to have another child for personal reasons. China has been dismantling its one-child policy, for decades a symbol of invasive and coercive government planning, but the change has been met with an indifferent shrug from many younger couples.
(REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Reuters recently reported that China’s National Health Commission said that COVID-19 also contributed to the decline the country’s marriage and birth rates.

The Reuters report goes on to say that demographers have also said so China’s uncompromising ‘zero-COVID’ policy Eliminating an immediate epidemic through strict surveillance of people’s lives could have caused profound, lasting damage to their desire to have children.

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Reuters contributed to this report.

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