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February 07, 2014 11:49 AM China Edging Towards Pro-Children Policy

By Summer Jiang


Guizhou Province, China

Many young adults in China would agree that this year’s Spring Festival, the weeklong national holiday in which family members spend quality time together, was sweet and joyful as well as stressful and irritating. Many were greeted with their relatives’ cheerful faces—as well as never-ending nagging questions about their work and love life.

One question that likely came up more than a few times was how many children young people plan to have, since China’s National People’s Congress has amended its childbirth policy last November. The policy allows couples to have two kids if either one is an only child. (Previously, in order to have two children, both parents had to have been only children.)

Although the National Health and Family Planning Commission has not set a timetable for all provinces, many provincial congresses responded quickly to the NPC’s decision. Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region was the first state to officially pass the policy in mid-January. It will take effect on the first day of March. In order to receive government approval to have the second child, a parent will likely be required to go through an application process and provide his or her proof of household registration record, although the process may be different from province to province.

So should we expect a baby boom in China? The short answer is maybe. More than half of couples who are eligible under the new policy say they are willing to have more than one child, according to a poll of 10,000 people by China’s Remin University. An online 30,000-base poll by Sina.com suggests a similar result.

But for a variety of reasons being willing to have more than one child does not mean many parents will actually do so. For one, raising a baby in China costs a lot of money. According to a study of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, it will cost a couple 32,719.5 yuan (about $5,398) to give birth to a baby and bring him or her up to two years old in Shanghai. In Beijing, parents would spend an estimate of 500,000 yuan (about $82,496) to take care of a child until he or she is through college. If a child studies abroad, that number’s bound to multiply. A friend who earned a master’s degree in art in San Francisco told me she spent about 500,000 yuan in the first year. (That’s the same amount money needed for roughly 22 years, to support a child through college graduation!) And that’s to say nothing of all the other costs, including fees to prepare and attend TOFEL and GRE, visa application, and flight tickets, etc.

Another reason many young parents who are eligible to have two children might choose not to do so is space. Already, young parents must budget for an apartment big enough to house a child, two parents and possibly two grandparents. (In China, children often care for their elderly parents in their own homes.) Apartments located within the Fourth Ring Road, about five miles from the center of Beijing, are about 42,259 yuan a square meter (almost $697 a square feet), and the price are still on the rise. According to a Reuters’ story, Beijing homes are three times as expensive for Chinese as New York City apartments are for Americans. The Chinese middle class is expanding, but for many, the prospect of raising more than one child is simply out of the question financially.

And then there’s simply the matter of what young adults have grown used to. Young adults, the majority of whom are single children, are used to the idea of a one-child family, and may therefore be reluctant to embrace the childbirth-policy addition.

For these reasons, the easing of China’s eugenics policy may see a slow reaction in the next few years, although as the middle class grows and average Chinese become wealthier, we could see families begin to grow in size. In the meantime, but the more choice, the better.

Grigvovan / Shutterstock.com

Summer Jiang is a journalist living in Washington, DC, and an intern at the Washington Monthly.

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