China’s second-child policy fails to reverse declining fertility rates
The People’s Daily, a mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, recently devoted a whole page to encourage reluctant couples to have a second child, claiming the country’s demographic dividend is disappearing and giving birth is not merely family business but a matter of vital national interest.

The newspaper said that in some developed areas in the country, women are considerably delaying marriage and pregnancy, or they choose to give birth to only one child. “Only through solving the many problems related to giving birth and raising a child, more people would dare and be willing to have a second child,” the newspaper commented, urging that the incentive policies must be implemented and not merely flaunted.

“A single child could be quite lonely,” said Wang Lin (alias) who works for a public institution in Beijing. One year ago, he and his wife decided to have their second child. “Before my daughter was born, we made the decision for my wife not to work anymore but take care of our two children fulltime,” he said, adding in big cities like Beijing financial matters and time constraint should be especially considered by those planning to have a second child.

China imposed birth control to allow most families only one child from 1979. The policy had helped decrease 400 million births, greatly relieving the pressure on resources and natural environment. Now, 40 years later, with an aging population and one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, the Chinese government decided to relax the policy, encouraging all families to have a second child, in 2015.

Although more couples like Wang Lin and his wife are planning to have a second child, the policy initially aiming to save China from low fertility trap failed to make a big difference. The National Bureau of Statistics released the latest data on births at the beginning of 2018, showing that the new-born population for the year 2017 stood at 17.23 million, decreasing 0.63 million from the previous year.

“The number of second children is slightly behind what we had expected,” said Wang Guangzhou, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences whose team was authorized by the National Health Commission to study the effectiveness and impact of the second child policy. Wang meanwhile admitted birth rates of the first child have quickly gone down in recent years, which offset the rise in the number of newborns due to the second child policy.

Wang suggested the government to actively and prudently regulate population policy in case fertility rates in China may further go down.

The total fertility rate referring to the number of children per woman at childbearing age indicates if a country is going through healthy population replacement. If the rate is 2.1 or beyond, the process of one generation of working-age people being replaced by the next could be realized. Any rates lower than 1.5 signal risks of “low fertility trap”, which would hinder social and economic development.

Since the 2000s, China’s total fertility rates had ranged between 1.5 and 1.6. Following the implementation of the second child policy, the rate increased to somewhere above 1.7 in 2016, according to data from the National Health Commission.

“Recent years have seen the second child policy bring effective results, although the total fertility rate is still below the 2.1 mark,” said Wang, warning there are big risks for China’s fertility rate to go down further while calling for release of more suitable policies.

“Many of my friends and colleagues have decided to have a second child. At the beginning, most of them were hesitant, worrying they would not be able to afford a second child good education, or have enough energy to look after the new baby,” said Wang Lin. “My wife and I don't have high expectations, and we just want my daughter to be able to grow up healthy and sound.”

There are a lot of parents who think differently. Burdened by real life pressures, many of them have given up the idea to have one more child.

Chen Jing (alias) who works for an Internet company in Beijing has recently made a tough decision, which is to abandon her plan to give birth to a second child. “My parents are too old to be able to help me raise a new baby,” she said. On the other hand, Chen said many of her friends had given up on the idea due to financial concerns. “Nowadays, children are being raised in quite ‘refined’ ways, so it’s burdensome to afford two kids’ expenses.”

Lu Yilong, a professor of the School of Sociology and Population Studies at the Renmin University of China, said there are multiple factors that could dampen people’s enthusiasm to get married and give birth, including fast-paced urban life, financial burdens, and education system.

Multiple people told the People’s Daily some more specific problems would make them flinch from giving birth. “For example, child-care center would be my top concern,” Wang Lin said. It was widely reported previously that with an underdeveloped nursery service industry, most toddlers in China would have to stay at home, being looked after by their grandparents before enrolling into kindergartens for kids beyond three years old.

Wang Guangzhou suggested adopting more comprehensive policies to guarantee long-term effects, “For regions embracing a baby boom, services catering to newborns, child-raising and education should be established beforehand, while for areas suffering from continuing population shrinkage, public services and resources should be accordingly redistributed.”

The State Council, China’s cabinet, could scrap limits entirely as soon as the end of the year, Bloomberg reported this May, citing unnamed sources.


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