Divorces are down—way down—in China so far this year, after the country instituted a new 30-day waiting period for divorces.
CNN reports, “According to statistics released by the country’s Ministry of Civil Affairs, 296,000 divorces were registered in the first quarter of 2021, compared to 1.06 million in the final quarter of last year—a drop of 72%. There was a nearly 52% drop year-on-year, from 612,000 in the first quarter of 2020.”
China is infamously struggling with a fast-falling fertility rate, one which some speculate will mean a five-percentage point shrinking of its labor force over the next few decades. In addition, 13.5% of its population is now 65 and above; this percentage compares with what Japan faced in the early 1990s, before that country began a three-decades long economic stagnation. In short, the demographic time bomb in China is serious, and the government has felt the pressure and started to get involved. Provinces have begun experimenting both with cash payments to newlyweds, as well as incentives for the birth of a second child and even miscarriage prevention leave to encourage its population to marry and bear children.
What the story neglected to report on was other reasons for the divorce downturn; both marriage and divorce rates are dramatically lower in many nations globally, due to the pandemic, although the complexities of the trend are still being researched. Some have speculated that those who would otherwise divorce are “stuck,” unable to make plans and move forward with their lives. But even these statistics are complicated. The American Family Survey, for example, found that the “share of married men and women ages 18-55 saying their marriage is in trouble declined from 40% in 2019 to 29% in 2020.” In other words, for a not-insignificant portion of married adults, the pandemic seems to have actually improved their marriage.
Nonetheless, the introduction of a waiting period in China is an interesting move. Is it really what’s making the difference in the divorce rate? Or is it some combination of other factors? It’s impossible to say for sure at this point, but there is a significant amount of research indicating that globally, people in developed nations divorce more often for emotional reasons (lack of love, “it just didn’t work,” etc.) than reasons like abuse; meaning time to “cool down” may help. There’s also research indicating that some divorcees—one survey has it at an astonishing half—actually regret their divorce. Even a more conservative estimate of divorce regret puts it at roughly 25%. This may seem not so bad; most people are still happy with their decision to divorce. But a 25% “error” rate is nothing to brag about when it comes to such a potentially devastating decision.
In short, China’s mandatory waiting period seems a good place to start, giving Chinese couples a chance to cool down, reconsider, or face the reality of what life without their spouse is going to look like. But it likely won’t do much in countering decades of a government-enforced one-child policy.