It does not take an economist to explain the falling number of babies being born in China. The simple answer is the cost of getting married and setting up a family home.

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the number of marriages in China has suffered four consecutive years of decline to 10.63 million in 2017. The number fell 5% annually in the last four years – the number of registered marriages was 13.47 million in 2013.

And there has been no sign of a rebound in the number of marriages, which is tipped to drop further in coming years. So what are the reasons for this drastic downturn in the most populated country in the world?

Firstly, it has to do with the low fertility rate. According to mainland reports, the number of people of marriageable age has decreased. That is because the number of babies in China has been in decline since 1996 and they are the ones of marriageable age now.

Another key reason is late marriages. With more Chinese gaining a higher education, they tend to get married after graduating.

Read: Having children “not just about family but about nation”

For instance, the largest portion of people registered for marriage in 2012 were aged from 20 to 24. By 2017, the largest number of those registering to be married were aged between 25 and 29.

But most importantly, the number of registered marriages seems to have a reverse relationship with residential property index prices, which have been increasing. Many people mocked this phenomenon on social media.

Some said that because of high property prices, they cannot afford to get married or have babies. One said: “If I can barely survive, I would rather not bring babies into this suffering world.”

Another joked that the marriage rate would hit a record low if home prices rose another 10% as young couples could not afford new homes. The National Statistic Bureau revealed that new born babies in 2017 totaled 17.23 million, down from 17.86 million a year earlier.

The launch of the two-child policy in early 2016 did little to reverse the declining trend. The bureau said the number of second children was up 22% to 8.83 million in 2017 from 7.21 million in 2016, but the number of first children for the same period was down 25% to 7.24 million.

The Peoples’ Daily, a state-owned mouthpiece, suggested that giving birth to children was not only a family matter, but also a matter of national importance. It ran the headline: “Let people have the courage and willingness to have a second child.”

Read: Beijing may compensate families with only one child