Regardless of three-child coverage, many in China can’t afford extra children | Enterprise and Economic system Information
Shenzhen, China – On a sultry June afternoon in a quiet corner of Lianhuashan Park in the heart of China’s flagship high-tech city of Shenzhen, 25-year-old Mr. Ling is engaged in the down-and-out tech-poor activity of searching ads for potential partners.
Men receive light blue cards, women light pink, grouped by decade of birth. The cards hang stiffly and impersonally on hundreds of wires in the circular Matchmaking Corner built by the city council, whose offices are a short walk away.
Like many younger men and women who live in Shenzhen without an official residence in the city, Ling sees chances of finding a wife, starting a family and actually staying in the city for the long term, slim – even if he would rather take it Course.
“The biggest problem is work, having enough money and getting a house,” he said. “I have a few friends who used to work in Shenzhen but have now moved to other areas. The cost of living puts too much pressure on them. “
Lings Hukou – China’s internal family registration system – ties most of its health and social insurance and the education of its future children to a rural village in Shandong Province far to the north, where he was born.
Ling, who didn’t want his full name to be used to protect his privacy, works as a real estate agent. But the job involves little more than answering phones, escorting potential buyers to properties with little chance of advancement.
As China tries to allow couples up to three children, it is becoming increasingly clear that the government needs to address the needs and concerns of people like Ling, who are eager to raise families and have children but are under pressure from a lack of education . Cost of living and barriers to movement like the hukou system – realities of life in China that keep many working couples from having more than one child, let alone two or three.
A lack of education, cost of living and barriers to movement like the hukou system are realities of life in China that keep many working couples from having more than one child, let alone two or three [File: Giulia Marchi/Bloomberg]
‘How can we take care of nine?’
An online survey conducted in China in early May found that just over half of young people don’t want to have a child, let alone a second or third.
One reason is the cost of buying a house. Most men believe they need property before proposing marriage. This is a major pre-marital hurdle for a man and his extended family, and it often helps pay for the first house. Others related to concerns about who would look after the children, the high cost of education and after-school programs, scoring systems in first- and second-tier cities that determine whether or not a child can attend local school, and changing mindsets among younger ones People who want to pursue individual dreams that are not about starting a family.
Women too – who do the lion’s share of childcare – are less and less willing to have a second child after they are exhausted from caring for the first child.
One remark circulating on Chinese social media hours after China announced the transition to a three-child policy last May day was that of a couple who said, “We already have a family of eight to look after, eh can we do that? take care of nine? “
Translation: Working-age couples in China often have to look after themselves, two pairs of parents who have little or no income from savings or pension plans, and children who already have children.
While the parents of such workers often help with house and child care, the cost of health care in old age, along with the cost of raising children, is a major burden.
China’s fertility rate slowed to 1.3 births per woman in 2020 and is likely to hover around that rate unless authorities in Beijing ease pressure on working families. While these authorities say efforts are underway to improve policies on maternity leave and insurance, as well as strengthen tax and housing support, most working parents in China are hopeless.
Government benefits introduced after China eased its one-child policy in 2015 failed to reduce financial burdens or significantly increase birth rates [File: Akio Kon/Bloomberg]The introduction of benefits after the relaxation of the one-child policy in 2015 failed to reduce burdens or significantly increase birth rates.
Chang Qingsong, associate professor at the Xiamen University Population Research Institute, believes the government should go further and lift restrictions completely so that families can choose whether or not to want children.
“The Chinese government could relax the limit on the number of children a family can have and provide maximum support to families who have the opportunity and conditions to have more babies,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Instead of dictating how many children they can have, the government must ease the burden on families in order to give birth to their intention,” he said. “Even if couples were allowed to have a third child, predictably most couples would not.”
Moving the needle
Failing or stagnating birth rates may not mean much right now, but as China’s population ages rapidly, economic growth could take a hit as the workforce shrinks in 15 years, according to Yue Su, chief economist at The Economist Intelligence Unit.
The new three-child policy could also have more negative short-term effects on women, she wrote, as companies assume women want more children and may choose to hire men instead to avoid maternity costs and time off work.
Miscarriages or stagnant birth rates may not mean much right now, but as China’s population ages rapidly, economic growth could take a hit as the workforce shrinks in 15 years [File: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg]Ashton Verdery, associate professor of sociology and demography at Penn State University, said the three-child policy is more of a response to recent census data showing that China has a rapidly aging population and is rapidly approaching its peak, but a more detailed guideline on coping with the pressures could follow later.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they focused on some kind of special credit people get for having more children or other guidelines that ease the challenges of more children,” he told Al Jazeera.
For example, according to reports, the Chinese authorities are encouraging some regions to test parental leave programs.
“I could imagine China building more apartments that are suitable for larger families and the like,” he said. “The Chinese state is much more involved in the economy and can therefore possibly move the needle a bit.”
For Scott Rozelle, development economist and co-director of the Rural Education Action Program at Stanford University, China’s demographic problem is less about quantity than about quality.
Much of this lack of quality in the workforce is due to China’s failure to provide schooling for all youth, especially in rural areas.
Research shows early indications that the decline in the birth rate is mainly coming from rural areas of China, mainly because women there do not feel that their families can support more than one or two children [File: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg]Without raising the educational level of rural children and re-educating rural hukou owners who did not make it to high school, simply having more children will not solve China’s looming work problems and keep China from entering middle school . Income traps like Mexico or Brazil.
“The quality of the people is really important in this post-industrial world,” said Rozelle. “If you don’t have a high school education, you won’t do well in online sales, you won’t be able to start a business.”
Recent research by Rozelle has shown initial indications that the decline in the birth rate is mainly coming from rural areas of China, mainly because women there do not feel that their families can support more than a child or two.
“My hypothesis is that the sharp decline in fertility over the past 10 years came mainly from rural China,” he told Al Jazeera. “Women now have so much more power to make decisions about critical decisions like family size.”
China is currently implementing comprehensive rural revitalization policies across the country, but the main focus is on agriculture and infrastructure programs rather than education, health and welfare.
Rozelle said that surveys of rural families over the years have found that while they appreciate many of these infrastructure upgrades, for most they boil down to one thing: education.
“It gets to where we won’t need large amounts of labor to run our societies, what we need is quality labor,” said Rozelle. “So does rural revitalization have to include education? Absolutely.”