SHANGHAI – Though thousands of babies were born in China on Sunday, the country’s birth rates continue to fall and it is now the citizens themselves who resist having a second child because of current economic pressures, some two years after the end of the one-child policy that for decades plagued millions of Chinese women.
According to recent data published by the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics, the total number declined by some 630,000 births in 2017 on the previous year.
Meanwhile, the population over 60 increased from 16.7 percent in 2016 to 17.3 percent in 2017, a clear statistical alert for Chinese demographers on their aging society.
On Jan. 1, 2016, the legislative reform allowing Chinese couples to have two children came into force thus ending nearly four decades of strict birth control which, according to estimates, averted some 400 million births and caused havoc on China’s population pyramid.
Gone was the wave of abandoned girls in baskets at the gates of orphanages unleashed in the 1990s, followed by a trend of international adoptions during the first decade of this century.
Today, China needs children to curb its ageing population, but the high costs of education or new career priorities for women are providing an obstacle to those couples who yearn to have a child or even two.
“You have to make many preparations, much planning and need to make calculations of what it will cost you,” said Sun Zeyu, a 28-year-old who has a girl and aspires for a second child.
In his opinion, the most important thing for couples is to be able to count on the support of their own parents to help raise their children because it takes a lot of dedication and today’s women want to work.
“China should ensure policies encouraging birth, banning abortion, and solving children’s issues in kindergartens,” he added.
According to numerous recent surveys published by local Chinese media, top concerns are family finances, the impact on parent’s careers or the complexity of education are the main reasons why families discard having a second child.
A recent survey by Beijing’s Social Psychological Work Committee indicates that only 10.8 percent of the population has two children and 58.6 percent would like to be able to.
This data was 70.4 percent in 2001, when the one child policy was in force and millions of Chinese had to either comply with state rules or face huge economic fines for having more than one child.
However, of the 17.23 million babies born in 2017, 51 percent have an older sibling, that is 5 percent more than 2016, something that, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, validates the success of the second child policy.
But China’s demographic experts suggest this is not enough and that the state should legislate more supportive policies encouraging couples to have children like lowering taxes or providing subsidies to help cover parenting costs, according to James Liang, a Peking University professor, speaking to the official news agency Xinhua.
If the government does nothing to encourage people to have children, China’s population is expected to decline by as much as 800,000 people per year in the next decade.
So far, the pressures of child care remains an overall family matter, said Ran Ran, a 29-year-old woman with a daughter.
“It is very important there are relatives who help in caring for the children. When the mother must return to work, if the grandparents haven’t retired yet or lack good health, it is necessary to look for a caregiver and that means many expenses,” she said.
From early childhood, Chinese children’s education is subject to heavy pressure due to limited spaces in public schools, forcing families to resort to private centers at a very high cost.
For this reason, investment in education, especially in childcare centers, is another goal the Chinese demographic experts point as a necessary priority for China to avoid growing old.