Afford me not: Soaring bride prices in China should be curbed, says parliament delegate

BEIJING (Reuters) - Runaway “bride prices” are making marriage unaffordable in rural China and need to be capped, and professional matchmakers should be stopped from overcharging, says a village delegate to China’s parliament.

FILE PHOTO: Newlywed couples attend a group wedding ceremony in traditional Han Dynasty style at Ganzhou, Jiangxi province, China May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

China’s rapid economic growth in the past decade has sharply raised parental expectations, pushing up the cost of pre-wedding gifts that now commonly include a brand new home.

In the past, a suitor would offer the parents of his bride about 11,000 yuan ($1,639). Now, future in-laws demand at least three “jin” (1.5 kg) of hundred yuan bills, a car and a house, said Zhang Qingbin, a delegate to the annual National People’s Congress from Hebei province.

“In the south of northern China, a young man looking to get married would need to spend around 700,000 yuan ($104,275),” Zhang wrote in a proposal to NPC.

“This is a huge financial burden, with steep bride prices becoming a key reason behind rural poverty,” he added.

In rural areas, where annual per capita incomes of about 15,000 yuan ($2,234) are just a third of earnings in cities, a groom’s need for cash is relatively acute.

With the economy facing a further slowdown this year, the chances of finding a bride are more remote, aggravating a rural phenomenon known as “leftover men” who cannot afford marriage.

Zhang blamed the parents of prospective brides who want to elevate their standard of living by demanding a high price from suitors.

Marriage subsidies could be one way to wedded bliss, he said, pointing to a pilot subsidy program in Taiyuan city in neighboring Shanxi province.

Taiyuan set up a Marriage Consumption Subsidy Fund in 2017 which offers newlyweds rebates on wedding pictures, the banquet, honeymoon travel and even white goods to furnish a new home.

Unaffordable marriages are also a factor in China’s bigger demographic problem - falling birth rates.

Many NPC delegates called for improved maternity benefits to encourage couples to have more babies as the country faces an aging population and shrinking workforce.

Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Darren Schuettler