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Is Asia's "partner on demand" trend fueling failing relationships and plunging birth rates?

In the bustling Asian cities, a new trend is emerging. Forget swiping right or attending awkward blind dates; in Asian, love, companionship, and even family members are available at a price. From "rent-a-boyfriend" services for singles seeking temporary companionship to virtual relationships offering much-needed emotional support, the phenomenon is challenging traditional notions of love and family. A growing number of populations are turning towards temporary relationships to fulfill their physical, social, and emotional needs.

The trend is particularly popular in Asian nations, which are known for their innovative and sometimes unconventional approach to seeking relationships.

In fact Chinese matchmaking companies are categorizing live-in son-in-law as a separate service in their apps to meet to the growing needs of Chinese affluents. This trend, alongside the recent rise of "virtual boyfriends" in China, reflects a broader shift in Asian societies.

This article delves at this trend of ‘partner on demand’ in Asian societies. In the article, we will explore its potential impact on the very fabric of society - the stability of relationships and the future of birth rates in the region. We'll examine the economic and social factors driving this trend and explore how these developments are interconnected with the decline in birth rates across several Asian nations.

Renting Families for Companionship in Asia:

People, mostly in Asian nations, can rent boyfriends and girlfriends to accompany them to event and social gatherings, or simply to provide companionship. The services are not just limited to romantic partners; it is also possible to rent a family member or an entire family in some parts of Asia. The trend is particularly popular in China, Japan, and South Korea.

There are online platforms dedicated to connecting those seeking partners with people willing to play the role. But it does not end there.

Some people go a step further and hire virtual boyfriends or girlfriends, which AI-powered chatbots are created to provide emotional support. Even more surprising, people can pay "stand-in" family members to attend events or appear for photographs, primarily to relieve social pressure to conform to traditional family arrangements. In China, a tradition of hiring a live-in son-in-law is also gaining popularity, with wealthy families seeking such men to give companionship and care for their daughters.

The Changing Expectations from Relationships:

In the age of instant gratification, digital revolution has transformed our lives. From same-day deliveries to instant answers and constant connectivity, everything is readily available at our fingertips. While these advancements were made to bring us closer, these are actually harboring isolation and anxiety. This "everything-at-your-doorstep" mentality is also emerging in romantic relationships, with the rise of "renting" partners in Asia standing as a clear example.

Relationships have become transactional commodities, which can be ‘rented’ with money. This trend raises concerns about increasing divorce numbers and falling birth rates.  One major concern is the erosion of commitment and emotional investment in long-term relationships.

The trend is leading to decline in the quality and stability of marriages. According to Statistics Korea, the marriage rate in South Korea has been steadily declining from 9.2 per 1,000 people in 1990 to 4.4 per 1,000 people in 2022. Conversely, the divorce rate has increased from 2.0 per 1,000 people in 1990 to 2.9 per 1,000 people in 2022.

The National Bureau of Statistics of China reports a similar trend, with the marriage rate dropping from 9.9 per 1,000 people in 2013 to 7.6 per 1,000 people in 2021. While divorce data is less readily available, anecdotal evidence and media reports suggest an increasing trend in divorces as well.

Declining birth rates are already plaguing Asian nations:

For maintaining a healthy population size over time, a woman must have 2.1 children in her lifetime to replace herself and her partner. This is called as replacement rate, which is crucial for maintaining stable generational populations.

However, in the recent years, the birth rates are steadily declining.

According to the World Bank, the total fertility rate (TFR), which indicates the average number of children a woman will have in her lifetime, in East Asia & Pacific was 1.14 in 2021, well below the replacement rate of 2.1.

People are more Focused on Career and Personal Growth:

With the readily available substitute to companionship, the needs of people are met through temporary relationships. This has postponed the search for long-term partners and put off decisions regarding family decisions.

A study conducted by ‘Mckinsey.com’ highlighted that women in Asia are increasingly focusing on education and career success before indulging in long-term relationships.

Another reason for the rising trend is the rising cost of child-rearing. Although many countries are offering compensation for marriages and child-rearing, temporary relationships are seemingly affordable alternative to financial responsibilities associated with raising a family.

A recent report by World Bank highlighted that the cost of living in Asia and pacific regions has averaged 2.7% from 2016 to 2021.

Conclusion:

Personal and professional growth, increasing financial strain, rising cost of living, and increasing awareness among people and the isolation have led to migration of people to rented relationships. The trend is budding in Asian societies.

In the age of instant gratification, seeking and maintaining long-term relationships is challenging. Hence, people are migrating towards temporary solutions. However, we must remember that nothing can replace the real human connection.

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