BEIJING – China’s low birthrate problems have been further complicated by the high prices demanded for traditional dowries by the families of potential brides. Chinese social media platforms were recently aghast at 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 their lack of financial resources, the couple was forced to break up.
“I always thought that excessive bride prices were stories that only existed on the internet until it happened to my own family” read the opening line in what was one of the most popular articles on the site. The writer’s cousin fell in love with a woman from Jiangxi province.
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The article went viral and received some 22 million hits, with many of the comments congratulating the groom and his family from avoiding terrible in-laws.
The dowry tradition of giving gifts to the family of the bride has existed for hundreds of years in China, and although a 1950 law prohibited forced marriages and any form of property-asking, the custom has largely remained in place.
China’s substantial demographic imbalance has been one cause that costs have swelled. The communist nation ended its one-child policy in 2015 and has since resulted in a surplus of an estimated 34 million men, as many families preferred to have a son over a daughter. In many areas, the average bride price can easily be five times the average annual disposable income, and the financial pressures have led it to become a problem facing the 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, with birth rates in decline for years, it is estimated to hit a record low this year dropping below 10 million from last year’s 10.6 million births. Additionally, China’s fertility rate of 1:16 in 2021 was below the 2:1 OECD standard for a stable population.
To combat the low growth rates, Chinese authorities have recently introduced numerous measures to encourage couples to have more children, including extended maternity leave and other financial incentives. Beijing also installed a 30-day cooling-off period for couples wanting to divorce. Nonetheless, the willingness to have more children is among the lowest worldwide. According to the Chinese government, excessive bride prices are yet another obstacle for young people to start having a family.
Recently, local authorities have implemented numerous rules to curb excessive bride prices. In September, national authorities also decided to step in when it announced a nationwide trial campaign to “promote a series of standards” and strict regulation on “vulgar standards.” The campaign will last until the end the year.
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Reuters recently reported that China’s National Health Commission said COVID-19 has also contributed to the decline in the country’s marriage and birth rates.
The Reuters report continued that demographers have also said that China’s uncompromising “zero-COVID” policy of promptly stamping out any outbreaks with strict controls on people’s lives may have caused profound, lasting damage on their desire to have children.
Reuters contributed to this report.