Changing social customs and a falling fertility rate are behind the average household size in China falling to 2.62 people in 2020 from 3.1 people in 2010.
That is shown in the latest census results, demonstrating that in the past it was common for three, or even four generations to live together under the same roof. In stark contrast nowadays, a household is frequently made up of a husband, a wife, and one or two children.
"Over the past 10 years or so, the size of local households has shrunk significantly," says Li Changxing, a 50-year-old neighbourhood committee member engaged in community work for nearly 20 years in Haidian district, Beijing.
Rural areas have also witnessed a drop in household size. "Nowadays, young people place more value on their own nuclear families. After working in cities, they will invariably obtain permanent urban residencies there," says Wang Lin, a senior citizen from a small village in east China's Anhui province.
His elder son and daughter have both obtained urban household registrations: "With my younger son working outside, my wife and I usually live alone," Wang says.
The change is mainly due to the increasing mobility of the population, improved housing conditions, and the fact that young people live separately from their parents after marriage, according to Ning Jizhe, head of China's National Bureau of Statistics.
In recent years, cities in China have eased restrictions on permanent residency and improved housing market and support systems, providing favourable conditions for young people to settle down in cities.
"Now it is much easier for people to get permanent residency in big cities. Among my classmates who graduated in the same year, many have settled down and started families in Shanghai, Shenzhen and other metropolises," says Yuan Ping, a young man from south China's Guangdong province who now works in Shanghai after graduating from a university in Beijing three years ago.
Yuan has gained permanent residency in Shanghai and enjoys his family life in a public rental housing apartment.
Another major reason is that the decline in the fertility rate has resulted in fewer newborns, according to Chen Gong, head of the population research institute at Peking University.
Some see the shrinking household size as cause for optimism: "From my perspective, a shrinking household size means a more relaxing lifestyle and fewer burdens in housing, healthcare and children's education," says Xu Tianxi, a Shanghai resident in his 90s.
However, many elderly have mixed feelings about this trend. Yang, a retiree in Beijing, says he and his wife are able to enjoy their retirement life with stable pensions – but are concerned about their future old-age care since their only son lives in Shanghai.
"Some of my friends visited some nursing homes for their future plans," he says," and we have also taken this option into consideration."