HONG KONG — Local Chinese officials trying to encourage earlier marriages are offering an incentive that all newlywed couples can appreciate: cash.
Couples who marry while the bride is 25 years old or younger will get a reward of 1,000 yuan ($137), officials in Changshan county, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, said last week on the county’s official account on the social media platform WeChat.
The reward, which is restricted to couples marrying for the first time, is meant to promote “age-appropriate marriage and childbearing,” the notice said. The county also announced a number of subsidies to help parents with child care, education and fertility.
Officials at multiple levels of government have been experimenting with various measures to increase the birthrate in the face of a looming demographic crisis in China, where the population declined last year for the first time in six decades.
They include abolishing the “one-child policy” that reigned from the late 1970s until 2016, which was designed to limit the number of births to prevent China’s population from growing too quickly. Since 2021, couples have been allowed to have as many as three children.
But government efforts have failed to have the desired effect on China’s fertility rate, which hit a record low of 1.09 last year. The China Population and Development Research Center, a government-backed institution, said the number of children per woman in China was the lowest among countries with populations over 100 million.
The number of marriages in China last year was the lowest since 1986, at 6.8 million, the Chinese news outlet Yicai reported in June, citing figures from the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
China’s average age of first marriage has been creeping up in recent years amid rising levels of industrialization, urbanization and education, reaching more than 29 for men and almost 28 for women in 2020, according to the national census that year. The legal age of marriage is 22 for men and 20 for women.
Young Chinese cite long working hours, limited child care options and growing concerns about the economy among their reasons for having fewer children or none at all.
Social media users criticized the cash reward policy as “ineffective,” saying the amount was a drop in the bucket compared with the high cost of raising a child in China’s highly competitive society. Others said it discriminated against women by omitting any mention of an age requirement for men.
“Why is it limited to women under 25? Promoting early marriage and early childbirth should be the same for both genders, right?” a user wrote on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, now known as X.
Another Weibo user wrote: “The introduction of such measures will only make people less inclined to get married, and it is discrimination as well. Do I really need your 1,000 yuan?”