Has the End of China’s One-Child Policy Come Too Late?

“Has the time come to encourage Chinese people to have more kids?”, China’s Phoenix News recently wondered. That time has indeed come: the Communist Party of China (CPC) issued an official statement on Oct 29 that all couples are now allowed to have two children. “Too late,” some experts say.

China has been   loosening its one-child policy for years. Ethnic minorities or couples in rural areas were already allowed to have more than one child if their firstborn was a girl. Since 2013, couples were entitled to have a second child if they themselves were an only child. Richer families could also choose to have a second child and simply pay the high fine they would get for having another baby.
 
China’s birth rates: far below world’s average
 
According to the Beijing Municipal Planning Commission, the loosened rules have led to 48,000 two-kids families in China’s capital. Although these numbers mark a new high, they are below expectations.

The latest development report (城市蓝皮书, “City Blue Book”) issued by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, shows that China’s society is rapidly ageing. Over the past thirty years, birth rates in China have been far below the world’s average. The Academy estimates that Chinese society will even have a negative population growth in 2030, Phoenix News writes.

China initiated the one-child policy in 1979 with an aim to control the nation’s rapid population growth. It was successful in doing so: the government estimates that it has prevented over 400 million extra births. The policy has also been blamed for innumerable cases of forced abortions and mandatory sterilizations over the past 35 years.
 
Many couples don’t want a second child
 
With the growing societal burdens of China’s ageing crisis, many demographers have called for a liberalization of the family planning system before. But even now that the two-child policy is new national standard (全面二孩), it might not have the desired effect: many couples do not want a second child.

As indicated by Yiying Fan on this blog in July of this year, many Chinese couples have significant concerns about the economic pressures of having a second child. Zhang Ming, professor of politics at Renmin University of China (中国人民大学) shared his thoughts on Sina Weibo: “It’s already too late to open the new policy, as not many couples would consider having a second child. The one-child policy has made child-rearing costs so high that many parents cannot afford a second child anymore.”

71.1% of Chinese women between the ages of 18-64 are employed (catalyst.org); their employment also negatively effects the preferred number of children (Fang et al, 2013).
 
Where is the fourth baby boom? 
 
China is dealing with a demographic crisis, Phoenix News writes. Since 1945, China has had three baby booms. The first was during the 1950s, the second from 1962 to 1976, and the third from 1986 to 1990. Since the 1986-1990 generation is now all grown up, a fourth baby boom would be expected. But the contrary is true.

Due to the one-child policy, Chinese society has a surplus of single men, also referred to as ‘leftover men‘. Although China already has a lack of women of marriageable age, these women also increasingly postpone marriage to work on their career. Since many men do not want to marry a woman older than 25, Chinese bachelors and bachelorettes are caught in a vicious circle, that do not help China’s ageing crisis.

Well-known scholar Yang Zao (杨早) responded to the issue on China’s social media platform Tencent earlier this year, asking women to let go of a bit of personal happiness and to get married “for the country, and for society” (link).
 
It is easy to limit birth rates, it is difficult to boost them
 
But telling China’s men and women to tie the knot at a young age and produce two children is easier said than done. Limiting birth rates through the one child policy was simple, Phoenix states, but getting them to rise will be a greater challenge.

The news that China now allows a second child for all people has exploded on Weibo, with thousands of people sharing links and commenting on them. Overall, reactions do not seem to be very positive: “People who had the money to have a second child already had one, and people who don’t have the money still will not have a second one,” one woman says.

“I would love to have a second one,” one male netizen writes: “But my financial burdens simply do not allow it.”

“I suddenly feel so sorry for myself as an only child,” another Weibo user says: “I never had anyone to play with.”

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Other tell their stories of parents who faced fines or penalties when their mother was pregnant. “My heart feels heavy,” one user says. And although some receive the news with joy, the majority of people express their mixed feelings.

But for some, the news means something else. “Let’s all go to bed early tonight,” he writes: “Let’s go make some more babies.”

By Manya Koetse

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