In late 2013 we brought you the news that the Chinese Government was bringing in a new relaxation of its abominable one-child policy, allowing parents to have a second child if either one of them are single children themselves. This would allow tens of millions of couples to legally have another child if they so wanted. The aim was to reverse China’s shrinking labour pool and to do something about the top-heavy Chinese demographic pyramid – too many older people supported by too few workers. Unfortunately, almost immediately I commented on demographers who thought that the relaxation of the rules will have little effect, a theme that was expanded upon by Shannon about six months ago. Dermont Grenham also wrote an excellent piece linking Chinese and Japanese social attitudes to family sizes which suggested that Chinese families weren’t limiting their families to one child just because their Government forced them to.
That idea is getting a wider hearing in the MSM as the months roll by and the uptick in Chinese births has failed to tick up. In New Zealand’s leading daily newspaper just last week there was an interesting article entitled: “One-child policy changes: Why aren’t the Chinese rushing to have more kids?”
The answer was not simple: understandably with such a personal decision, there are all sorts of reasons why people chose not to have another child. But some common factors can be teased out. First, there are the practical and economic reasons: it is too hard and too costly to have another child. This is I’m sure a reason many parents the world over choose not to have another baby, and thus the experiences that the article highlights are not unique to China, but are interesting nevertheless:
“When China announced it was relaxing its one-child policy in late 2013, marketing director Kang Lu chatted with her husband about whether they wanted a second baby.
‘But given our current circumstances, we quickly abandoned the idea,” she said. “It wasn’t a tough decision.’ … There are no kindergartens here for children under three, while the market for nannies is unregulated, and tales of neglect are rife. Kang’s parents had moved to Beijing for three years to help look after her first child, a girl, but now felt too old to help.
Kang also has ambitions for advancing her career, but was faced with the prospect of giving up those ambitions – or giving up her job entirely – to care for a second child. In Beijing’s soaring housing market, Kang and her husband certainly couldn’t afford a larger apartment, which they figured they would need if they had a boy. And they were worried that the capital’s smoggy air could affect a new baby’s health.”
There is also the desire to provide the very best opportunities for your only child:
“’My husband and I provide everything we can for our daughter,’ Kang said. ‘We pay for her to go to her favorite ballet class. We plan to send her overseas when she grows up. But if we had another baby, I don’t think we could do all this for both of them.’”
But as the article suggests, practical considerations aren’t the only reasons: decades of government propaganda have convinced many people that one child is really best. As Kang states: “Besides, I am an only child … In my mind, one child is good enough.” Or look at the example of freelance writer Li Yue:
“’Many people have been brainwashed by one-child policy propaganda, including my mom,” she said. “When I told her I was having a second child, she thought it was unacceptable. She didn’t call me or talk to me for a month.’
Li said she was an only child, as were all of her six cousins, and they all used to believe one child was best.
‘Before my first daughter came into the world, I only planned to have one baby. But when I saw my daughter, the joy, the happiness made me want to have more babies,’ she said. ‘Now, my mom loves my younger daughter very much. She has moved to our place to help look after her. And she has even started to persuade other people to have a second child.’”
Decades of propaganda can’t beat a baby’s smile and overall cuteness obviously!
But for whatever reason, the Chinese government’s attempts to increase the number of babies its citizens are having has not been as successful as it had hoped. In Beijing only 6.7 percent of eligible couples have applied for permission to have a second child. Nationally this number has been higher, but still less than government forecasts with only one million couples having applied (talking of “applying” for permission to have another child merely emphasises that this is a relaxation of a system which still rigidly controls the most intimate decisions a couple can make!)
This is not good news for China’s economy and therefore not good news for its government:
“low fertility rates, a rapidly aging population and a shrinking labor force will inevitably put immense strains on the economy in the decades ahead, and on the government’s ability to pay people’s pensions. It is so severe a problem, some experts predict it could ultimately threaten the legitimacy of Communist Party rule.”
Of particular concern is the drop in the working age population:
“China’s working population fell for a third straight year in 2014, declining by 3.7 million to 916 million people, according to data released this week, in a trend that is expected to accelerate in years ahead. Meanwhile, the number of people aged 60 and above will approach 400 million, or a quarter of the population, in the early 2030s, according to United Nations forecasts, from one-seventh now.”
Although demographers and economists are predicting looming crisis, some in the Chinese Government are not convinced:
“Mao Qu’nan, the chief spokesman for the government’s National Health and Family Planning Commission, maintains that the size of China’s population is still a more pressing problem than the fact that it is aging.
Those who say otherwise, he said, ‘have malicious intentions to damage the Chinese government in the name of birth control.’”
With these sorts of statements coming from high Goverment officials, is it any wonder that many Chinese couples are hesistant about having more than one child. The economic conditions that affect many couples decisions to have a child around the globe obviously are having a bearing on Chinese couples. But in China there is another, unique element: years of social conditioning from their Government.
Although there’s no sign yet that it will happen, wouldn’t it be fitting if the one-child policy were the catalyst for the fall of the Chinese Communist Party? That might just make partial amends for the hundreds of millions of lives lost.