- China wants its women to have more babies to avoid a demographic crisis.
- But ending the controversial one-child policy has not led to a baby boom.
- Business Insider spoke to three Chinese women about children – and why they don’t want them.
When it comes to settling down and having children, 26-year-old Bihan Chen sees the choice in simple terms: It’s a bad investment.
“Let’s face it: having a child is like owning an investment with no guaranteed return for at least 18 years,” Chen, a Chinese venture capital analyst, told Business Insider.
China is the world’s second-most populous country, but demographic trends paint a grim picture for lawmakers in Beijing trying — and failing — to boost the country’s population growth.
For starters, it seems that many Chinese people of childbearing age cannot get married. The number of registered marriages in China fell to a new low of 6.83 million in 2022.
And for many of those who do marry, children are simply not part of the vision.
Due to declining birth rates, China’s population will shrink in 2022 for the first time since the early 1960s. The population shrank again in 2023 when deaths exceeded births by 2.08 million people.
For young people like Chen, grappling with China’s slowing economy and record youth unemployment is already a daunting task.
“I wouldn’t choose to spend part of my income on children because it’s expensive. The main thing I’m thinking about now is how I’m going to finance my retirement. With my current income level, I feel like I that is possible.” I won’t be able to retire comfortably anytime soon,” Emily Huang, 29, told BI.
More to life than just having babies
Huang, who worked in the tech industry before becoming a content creator, says she didn’t want to be tied to starting a family.
“There is so much to explore in this world, so much to do in this very short life, that I don’t see myself taking the responsibility of having children,” Huang said.
Such opinions are prevalent on Chinese social media, with many complaining about the costs of raising a child.
“When it comes to having children, I don’t have an ounce of desire, only fear. The disadvantages of having children far outweigh the advantages. Since I don’t have children, all I have to worry about is my retirement,” one person wrote. the microblogging platform Weibo.
Others cited the loss of personal freedom as a major obstacle to having children.
“The fact that I don’t have children means I can spend all my money on myself. I can go on holiday abroad whenever I want, sleep in at the weekend and go out drinking late at night. That’s better than me worrying about my children day in and day out.” another person wrote.
From baby boom to bust
The looming demographic crisis worries Chinese leaders. At last year’s National Women’s Congress, Chinese leader Xi Jinping said China should “actively cultivate a new culture of marriage and childbearing.”
“We need to strengthen our guidelines on marriage, childbirth and family planning for our young people. We must promote and implement fertility promotion policies and improve the quality of our human capital, while caring for our aging population,” Xi said in his speech. speech in October.
The country has been actively trying to shore up declining birth rates. China dropped its controversial one-child policy in 2016, allowing couples to have two children. In 2021, the government changed the rules again. Now couples are allowed to have a maximum of three children.
However, the measures have not had the desired effect.
“This is because most of China’s fertility reduction, especially since the 1990s, has been voluntary and the result of modernization rather than fertility control policies,” said Dudley L. Poston Jr., professor of sociology at Texas A&M University , in a comment. for The conversation in July.
“Chinese couples are having fewer children because of the higher living and education costs associated with having more than one child,” he continued.
Pain and gain
It’s not just about money. Having children remains a very personal decision that cannot be judged solely on a financial level.
Chen, the venture capital analyst, told BI that she didn’t want to experience the pain of childbirth.
“We now know, through social media and online forums, how painful it is to give birth to a child. This kind of information is missing as a girl grows up because mothers are unlikely to talk about the pain of giving birth to them,” Chen said.
“My mother didn’t tell me that, and I’m pretty sure my grandmother didn’t tell her either,” she continued.
That said, not everyone is against having children. Some spoke of the joy that comes with watching their child grow.
“Having a child is a blessing that brings joy, even though it can be a hassle sometimes,” said one person on Weibo. “Rich or poor, we just have to take it step by step.”
Lanjie Wang, 25, an economics student, told BI that she would like to have children one day.
“I want to have children because I believe I have brought happiness to my parents. I believe my children will also bring happiness to my family,” Wang said.
Baby booms will not provide a quick fix to China’s problems
To be fair, China is not alone in facing a demographic ticking time bomb. Japan and Korea have suffered from low birth rates for years; America also has a declining birth rate. The problem is also often explored across generations, rather than geographic lines, with many questions centering on why millennials around the world are delaying childbirth.
But even a massive change in societal attitudes may not be able to address China’s demographic crisis.
“Even if China somehow defies past trends and manages to substantially increase its national fertility rates, it will take nearly two decades to pay off when babies born today finally enter the workforce,” says Collin Meisel, deputy director of geopolitical analysis at the university. of the Pardee Center for International Futures in Denver, wrote in a commentary for Time in December.
If anything, China’s one-child policy may have been too effective in slowing population growth.
“The one-child policy, which has been in place for 36 years, has irreversibly changed Chinese views on childbearing: having one child – or none – has become the social norm,” said Fuxian Yi, a senior scholar at in obstetrics and gynecology at New York University. University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote in a commentary for Project Syndicate in February 2023.
Nevertheless, China appears determined to reverse the demographic effects of its past policies. Xi’s recent calls for more babies are beginning to alarm people who remember the lengths the Chinese government has gone to to enforce the one-child policy.
In 2013, China’s Ministry of Health said that 336 million abortions and 196 million sterilizations had been performed since 1971.
“We saw what happened 30 years ago during the one-child policy, when it was the other way around,” Huang, the content creator, told BI.
“I was scared when I first heard the news because I want to be in control of my body, especially if I don’t want to have children,” Huang continued. “I want that choice to be mine.”