Parent-facing matchmaking apps are taking off in China

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Since February last year, Wang Xiangmei, a retired factory worker from Zhejiang, China, has been on three different dating apps in search of the perfect husband — not for herself but for her 28-year-old daughter. On the apps, Wang, 52, set detailed requirements for her future son-in-law: he must hold a bachelor’s degree, be at least 173 centimeters tall, be 33 years old or younger, come from a loving family, and have a good character. 

Family-building Matchmaking

Wang believes her daughter urgently needs to secure a boyfriend before all the good men are snapped up by other women. Her daughter must also give birth when Wang is strong enough to help raise the babies, she told Rest of World. Her daughter has not been dating, so Wang decided to take matters into her own hands. “I wanted to see if I could find someone suitable,” said Wang.

Desperate Chinese parents like Wang are turning to a crop of new, parent-facing online matchmaking platforms to set up first dates for their unmarried children. On apps such as Perfect In-Laws, Family-building Matchmaking, and Parents Matchmaking, parents create profiles to advertise their offspring to prospective suitors — sometimes without their children’s consent. Once a match is made, the parents will get to know each other first. In India, where marriages are commonly arranged by families, some matrimony apps also allow parents to swipe on behalf of their children.

Although arranged marriages have become more rare in China since imperial times, Chinese parents still set up their children with potential partners — often through professional matchmakers or at marriage markets. In recent years, as marriage rates in China have dwindled, anxious parents are increasingly pressuring their children — often their only child as a result of China’s former one-child policy — to marry, give birth, and continue the family line. 

China’s dating app industry has tapped into growing parent anxiety by offering matchmaking services online. Two mothers told Rest of World they discovered the matchmaking apps through advertisements on TikTok’s sister app Douyin. Users have to pay subscription fees to view profiles and unlock contact information. A basic subscription package on the app Perfect In-Laws, for example, costs 1,299 Chinese yuan ($181). “No expiration date, until there’s marriage,” the subscription terms states.

It’s unclear how many parents are using the matchmaking apps. Family-building Matchmaking, owned by gaming company Perfect World, claims it has more than 2 million users and has facilitated more than 53,000 marriages since it was launched in 2020. Parents Matchmaking, founded by online dating giant in 2021, also boasts millions of users. Both companies did not respond to interview requests, while the company that owns Perfect In-Laws declined to be interviewed. 

Compared with dating apps targeting young people, like Tinder (which is blocked in China,) or Momo, China’s largest dating platform, the new parent-facing matchmaking apps place greater emphasis on users’ finances. Information such as salary range, car and property ownership, and workplace (state or private sector) are prominently displayed on user profiles. 

“Parents are trying to control the selection process based on material standards.”

Sybil Wu does not share her mother’s enthusiasm for the matchmaking process. Her mother, who is in her fifties and from the Zhejiang province, paid 299 yuan ($42) for a one-year subscription on Parents Matchmaking. At first, she was just playing around the app for fun, but she soon realized that she might actually find someone for her daughter, a postgraduate student in Beijing. Her mother’s qualifications are strict: a boyfriend who is good-looking, is at least 175 centimeters tall, was born in or before 1999, has a master’s degree or Ph.D., and owns an apartment.

After matching with prospective in-laws, Wu’s mother now speaks with them on the phone to discuss their childrens’ career plans and exchange photos of them on the messaging app WeChat. Some parents asked her mother if Wu had attended top secondary schools. Others stated they wanted only virgins — a requirement that her mother did not approve of.

A screenshot from the app Parents Matchmaking.

Parents Matchmaking

She said she briefly texted one man that her mother found through the app, but the match didn’t work out. “There’s no way [parents on the app] would succeed,” Wu told Rest of World. “It’s completely about parents choosing their favorite in-laws.”

Friction over these matchmaking apps reveals a widening gap between how young people and their parents view marriage. Kailing Xie, an assistant professor at University of Birmingham who studies marriage and gender in China, said because young Chinese often rely on their parents’ help to buy property and raise children, parents want to make sure their children marry to serve the family’s best interests. Given China’s former one-child policy, many parents have only one child, which adds to their anxiety. “The children’s business is also the parents’ business because they are often perceived as the only hope of the family,” Xie said.

But parents and children sometimes have different expectations about what marriage should offer. “Parents are trying to control the selection process based on material standards,” Xie said, “whereas the younger generation might care more about intimacy with the other person.”

In contrast to their parents’ generation, young people, especially women born in the 1990s and 2000s, are increasingly choosing to marry later, if at all. This year, marriage rates dropped to the lowest it has ever been in over three decades. According to a survey conducted by the Communist Youth League in 2021, about 44% of young urban women respondents said they do not plan to marry, with many citing anxieties over the financial costs of raising a family. 

Wang Xiangmei’s daughter, Elaine Yang, who works as a teacher in the eastern city of Hangzhou, said she sometimes argues with her mother over the phone, because she won’t stop pressuring her to get married soon. Yang said that although she empathizes with the social pressure her mother suffers from having an unmarried daughter, for now, she is happy with being single.

Despite Yang’s objections, her mother is planning to subscribe to the matchmaking apps and arrange for online matchmakers to set up dates for her. “I don’t know what’s wrong with the young people today,” Wang said. “I already had my child when I was 25.” 

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