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Delaying marriage, kids, factor of low birth rate

By WANG XIAOYU| China Daily| Updated: April 12, 2023

Chinese people predominantly prefer to have fewer babies and to provide the best possible conditions for bringing up their children, China's top health authority said on Tuesday, adding that more efforts will be made to encourage young people to get married and have children at adequate ages.

The National Health Commission made the comments in response to a national political adviser's suggestion that measures should be rolled out guiding young people to get married and have children at a younger age.

Delays in marriage and childbearing are believed to be among the key factors contributing to the country's low birthrate in recent years.

Last year, China registered the first drop in its population in about six decades, prompting appeals for the ramping up of supportive policies to lift fertility rates.

China has one of the highest legal ages for marriage registration in the world, which is 22 or older for men and 20 or older for women.

As part of the family planning policy that was in effect from around 1980 to 2015, people were encouraged to get married and have children at a later age, which usually meant tying the knot at 23 or older for women and at 25 or older for men.

The commission said that starting in 2015, clauses concerning encouraging late marriage and reproduction were removed from the Law on Population and Family Planning and local family planning regulations. The country's civil code also excludes such statements.

"Data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed that in 2017, the average age for a first marriage among women in China was 25.7 years old and the average age for them having their first child was 26.8," said the commission.

"Both numbers are much higher than the legal marriage ages and are expected to trend further upwards in the future," it said. "Economic burdens, pressures of raising children and concerns over career developments are among key factors that stifle fertility in the country."

However, the commission did not directly acknowledge the political adviser's proposal to promote early marriage. Rather, it said that more efforts will be made to strengthen guidance and launch supportive measures to create a more favorable social environment for people to get married at appropriate ages and raise children in a satisfying environment.

He Dan, head of the China Population and Development Research Center, said during a previous interview that perspectives on childbearing might become more diversified in the future, but having fewer children and ensuring the health of newborns will remain the mainstream.

"We can roll out policy interventions to meet demands for families willing to have more babies, so as to stabilize the fertility rate as much as possible and avoid a sharp decline," she said.