HARBIN: Looking up at a new building for sale, Jin Jian, a fitness trainer in Harbin, turned and left with a sigh.
"There's no way I can afford it." The 28-year-old has been dating for sometime but his relationships have gone nowhere. They often failed because the women wanted a man with a decent apartment, said Jin.
"Frankly speaking, I can't afford to marry if that means I have to buy an apartment," he said.
Like Jin, many Chinese born in the eighties, at a time when China began its market reforms, are struggling as a consequence of the country's bullish property market.
With half of his 4,000-yuan monthly income spent on rent and living expenses, Jin needed to save at least for 20 years to own a 60-square-meter apartment in Harbin, the capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province.
Decades ago, the newly employed could always make do with dormitories first and later would move into rented apartments after getting married. They were happy because they knew an apartment or house would be given to them eventually by the government.
But it is a different story today as home ownership has become an elusive dream for many. Statistics from Goldman Sachs showed that over the past six years, housing price hikes had outpaced income rises by 30 percentage points in Shanghai and 80 percentage points in Beijing.
The global economic slowdown has not stopped China's property prices from rising. Official statistics showed that house prices in 70 large and medium-sized Chinese cities rose 5.7 percent year-on-year in November 2009.
Jin is not the only one choosing to remain single. A survey by China Youth Daily's Center for Social Research showed that 35.6 percent of more than 4,000 people polled would not commit to marriage if they did not own an apartment or house.
Jin's parents advised him to go back to the countryside where houses were affordable, but giving up the city life was not something he wanted to do.
Xu Jing, a 24-year-old graduate student of the Northeast Normal University, also wanted to own a home before getting married. "Can love withstand the test of not having a house? I am not sure."
A housing agent surnamed Wang said that parents were the only support when the 1980s-generation could not afford the down payment for an apartment.
"But that will downgrade the lives of three families; the young couple and parents from both sides," said Wang.
"I will not burden my parents with so much trouble," said Xu.
Zhao Yi, a 26-year-old clerk with a foreign company in Harbin, who is getting over a break-up. The two-year relationship ended because he could not fulfill his girlfriend's wish to own an apartment together.
"I understand her now. Even if I could have saved enough for the down payment, the loan would have created too much pressure, and we would not have been happy." said Zhao.
Marriage for nothing
While some young Chinese chose to be single, others feel the pressure to marry even though they have little financial security.
These kinds of marriages have jokingly been named "naked marriages", in which brides and grooms abandon all traditional etiquette and customs and do without wedding banquets, rings, dowries, or owning an apartment.
Their only expense is nine yuan for their marriage certificates.
Zhang Gelin, 27, a graduate student of People's University of China, just had such a marriage. Her bridal chamber was a rented house.
"Every couple wants to have their own house, but there's a big gap between the dream and reality. We will fight to own one and I believe our dream will eventually come true," she said.
Zou Heng, 22, a restaurant employee in southwestern Yunnan Province, spent nothing on his wedding aside from two rings. "We wanted to save for either the mortgage down payment or starting up our own business," he said.
Duan Chengrong, a sociology professor at the People's University of China, said that basic realities would always change culture and people's behaviors.
"As China goes through a tremendous social and economic transformation, a new generation is adjusting some traditional concepts to suit them and managing problems in their own way. It would be good to see true love flourishing while every one seeks to be well-off," Duan said.