No Job, No Marriage, No Kid: China’s Workers and the Curse of 35

It’s widely discussed in China: Employers don’t want you after 35. Some job listings say it plainly, leaving a generation of prime-age workers feeling defeated.

Li Yuan

By Li Yuan

June 28, 2023Updated 4:21 a.m. ET

“When Sean Liang turned 30, he started thinking of the Curse of 35 — the widespread belief in China that white-collar workers like him confront unavoidable job insecurity after they hit that age. In the eyes of employers, the Curse goes, they’re more expensive than new graduates and not as willing to work overtime.

Mr. Liang, now 38, is a technology support professional turned personal trainer. He has been unemployed for much of the past three years, partly because of the pandemic and China’s sagging economy. But he believes the main reason is his age. He’s too old for many employers, including the Chinese government, which caps the hiring age for most civil servant positions at 35. If the Curse of 35 is a legend, it’s one supported by some facts.

“I work out, so I look pretty young for my age,” he said in an interview. “But in the eyes of society, people like me are obsolete.”

China’s postpandemic economic rebound has hit a wall, and the Curse of 35 has become the talk of the Chinese internet. It’s not clear how the phenomenon started, and it’s hard to know how much truth there is to it. But there’s no doubt that the job market is weak and that age discrimination, which is not against the law in China, is prevalent. That is a double whammy for workers in their mid-30s who are making big decisions about career, marriage and children.”