China’s flagging property market might mean fewer “divorces” this year

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China’s divorce rate has risen 12 straight years, according to a recent report from the Ministry of Civil Affairs. 

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Last year 3.6 million couples got divorced, a rise of 3.9% over 2013. (The 25-to-29 age range accounted for the most divorces, at 38%.) The marriage rate, meanwhile, dipped to 9.6 per thousand people last year.

While officials offered no reasons for the rising divorce rate, Chinese media and observers have speculated on their own. Some say it’s a sign of social progress for women. Others point to the one-child policy: Most members of China’s post-’80s generations grew up as the only child in their families, noted Fang Xiaoyi, director of Institute of Developmental Psychology at Beijing Normal University, in a CCTV broadcast. With no siblings, the theory goes, their negotiation skills didn’t fully develop, and today they can’t easily compromise with a spouse. 

But others look to housing regulations. On the popular microblogging platform Sina Weibo, one commenter blamed the rise of divorces on rules pertaining to home ownership (link in Chinese). First-time homeowners in China enjoy financial breaks—such as lower down payments and taxes—not available to those acquiring multiple homes. With a “divorce,” a husband or wife can get their name removed from the first home and buy the second as if it’s their first—with all the associated benefits.

Divorce rates in Beijing went up 41% (link in Chinese) in the first three quarters of 2013, after the municipal government initiated a 20% tax on second-home purchases early that year. And since 2010 China’s authorities had been raising the minimum down payment for second homes, partly to curb the housing bubble.

But with slowing economic growth and a flagging property market, in March they reduced it from 60% to 40%. ”Now that the central bank has lowered the second-home down payment,” one Weibo user predicted, ”we’ll have a much lower divorce rate.”