Fewer ‘I dos’ ruin the party for China’s US$500 billion wedding industry

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SHANGHAI: COVID-19 wasn’t kind to wedding planners in China, where marriages are traditionally elaborate, expensive affairs, but the industry estimated at almost US$500 billion is now facing a bigger threat: A plunge in the number of couples willing to tie the knot.

The trend, which has become more obvious as the economy weakens and consumer confidence wanes, is also worrying officials trying to revive marriage, and birth, rates which dropped to record lows last year, leading to the first decline in population numbers in 60 years.

“The number of marriages is falling and few are willing to spend a lot on weddings,” said Yuan Jialiang, who ran a full-scale wedding planning business for almost a decade in Shanghai before switching to focus on wedding photography before the pandemic.

“The future of this industry doesn’t look promising.”

There were 6.8 million marriages across China last year, 800,000 fewer than in 2021 and the lowest since the government began publishing the data in 1986.

This drop in marriage registrations will exacerbate the decline in births in China, now one of the world’s fastest-ageing societies. Many cities deny unmarried mothers child-raising or healthcare subsidies and having children out of wedlock is often frowned upon.

“You have a lot of consumers that are just saying ‘well, you know, marriage isn’t the right thing for me’ and a lot of younger adults in China feel that raising kids is just too expensive,” said Ben Cavender, managing director and head of strategy at China Market Research Group.

“The traditional Chinese wedding industry is probably in for tough times.”

BUDGET, BACKLOG

Before the pandemic hit, weddings were big business in China, with Daxue Consulting estimating the industry to be worth 3.6 trillion yuan (US$487 billion) in 2020.

Couples traditionally splash out on gold jewellery, elaborate decor and luxury venues but Frank Chen, from Chen Feng Wedding Planning in Shanghai, says few weddings this year had a budget of more than 100,000 yuan (US$13,736).

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