More Chinese women choose singlehood, Latest World News - The New Paper

More Chinese women choose singlehood

XI’AN, China – Freelance copywriter Chai Wanrou thinks marriage is an unfair institution.

Like many young women in China, she is part of a growing movement that envisions a future with no husband and no children, presenting the Chinese government with a challenge it could do without.

“Regardless of whether you’re extremely successful or just ordinary, women still make the biggest sacrifices at home,” the 28-year-old feminist said at a cafe in the north-western city of Xi’an.

“Many who got married in previous generations, especially women, sacrificed themselves and their career development, and didn’t get the happy life they were promised. Living my own life well is difficult enough nowadays,” she told Reuters.

Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2023 stressed the need to “cultivate a new culture of marriage and childbearing” as China’s population fell for a second consecutive year and new birth numbers reached historic lows.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang also vowed to “work towards a birth-friendly society” and boost childcare services in this year’s government work report.

The Communist Party views the nuclear family as the bedrock of social stability, with unmarried mothers stigmatised and largely denied benefits.

But a growing number of educated women, facing unprecedented insecurity amid record youth unemployment and an economic downturn, are espousing “singleism” instead.

China’s single population aged over 15 hit a record 239 million in 2021, according to official data.

Marriage registrations rebounded slightly in 2023 due to a Covid-19 pandemic backlog, after reaching historic lows in 2022.

A 2021 Communist Youth League survey of some 2,900 unmarried urban young people found that 44 per cent of women do not plan to marry.

Marriage, however, is still regarded as a milestone of adulthood in China and the proportion of adults who never marry remains low.

But in another sign of its declining popularity, many Chinese are delaying tying the knot, with the average age of the first marriage rising to 28.67 in 2020 from 24.89 in 2010, according to census data.

In Shanghai, this figure reached 30.6 for men and 29.2 for women in 2023, according to city statistics.

“Feminist activism is basically not allowed (in China), but refusing marriage and childbirth can be said to be... a form of non-violent disobedience towards the patriarchal state,” said Ms Lu Pin, a Chinese feminist activist based in the United States.

After decades of improving women’s education levels, workforce participation and social mobility, the Chinese authorities now face a dilemma as the same group of women have become increasingly resistant to their propaganda.

Long-term single lifestyles are gradually becoming more widespread in China, giving rise to online communities of mostly single women who seek solidarity from like-minded people.

Posts with the hashtags “No marriage, no children” from female influencers often in their 30s or 40s on Xiaohongshu, China’s Instagram, regularly gain thousands of likes.

One anti-marriage forum on Douban, another social media platform, has 9,200 members, while another dedicated to “singleism” has 3,600 members who discuss collective retirement plans, among other topics.

Even though some analysts believe that the number of people who remain single for life will not grow exponentially in the future, delayed marriages and falling fertility are likely to pose a threat to China’s demographic goals.

“In the long run, women’s enthusiasm for marriage and childbirth will only continue to decrease,” said Ms Lu, the feminist activist based in the US. “I believe this is the most important long-term crisis that China will face.” – REUTERS