Marriage too costly for some rural bachelors in China

Updated: 2016-02-25 17:36

By Ma Chi(

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Marriage too costly for some rural bachelors in China

Migration from rural areas to cities and an imbalance between the sexes has left the cost of marriage unaffordable for some country families, Beijing Youth Daily reported

After the noise of firecrackers faded, Zhang Hu and his wife returned home with heavy hearts. Their son's marriage cost the impoverished family their entire savings and a debt of as much as 150,000 yuan ($23,000). It is a huge sum for a family from a poor mountainous village in Northwest China's Gansu province.

Fodianwan village is a notoriously poverty-stricken village in Qingyang. "Our village is so poor that there is barely any girl willing to marry young men from here," said Zhang Hu. He said villagers had been used to the soaring price of betrothal gifts, or caili in Chinese, which means money a man takes to propose to the woman he loves.

The less developed an area is, the more costly the marriage is for the groom, especially in a place such as the Loess Plateau in Northwest China where the natural environment is harsh. "Love is no longer about tender feelings, but a matter of price," said Liu Yanwu, a professor of sociology at Wuhan University.

Liu has surveyed the changes in cost of marriage in rural areas over past decades: from the 1970s to 1980s, marriage was hardly a burden to a rural family, and in the 1990s, a marriage cost the income of a rural labor of three or four years on average. But since 2000, the cost has witnessed a sharp increase: today, it needs a rural labor to work for 20 years to pay for the marriage if expenses such as house purchase are included – for a typical rural marriage the groom's family is expected to provide house, and even a car in some better-off areas, for the newlyweds.

In rural areas of Qingyang, the price of betrothal gifts has jumped from around 10,000 yuan in 2004 to 150,000 yuan by last year. The marriage of Zhang's son almost dragged the family back to poverty.

One reason for the soaring bride price is the imbalanced sex ratio in China. For every 100 newborn girls, there were 115 boys born across the country last year, and in rural areas, where only boys are regarded as the heirs to carry on the family line, the ratio between men and women of marriageable age is even higher – in some places it is close to 2 to 1. The imbalance makes the competition for a wife fierce among rural bachelors.

The migration of rural populations to cities is also blamed for the rising cost of rural weddings.

As China's urbanization has gathered pace up since the opening-up and reform policy was introduced in the late 1970s, more and more rural people have migrated to cities seeking better pay and an improved life. As a result, the number of women of marriageable age in rural areas is in decline and there are not enough partners for rural young men, said Zhang Yi, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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