Despite China announcing changes to its strict one-child policy, many young parents say they will not choose to have a second child due to the high cost of living in modern-day China.
“Giving birth to a second child is not difficult, but we do not have the energy anymore,” said Wang Tao, a 35-year-old native of Beijing, who is married and has a 5-year-old daughter.
“We lack a safe social net to support a family with two children,” Wang added. “China doesn't provide a pension or free education,” he said while ticking off a list of things that make having a larger family a financial burden.
After more than 30 years of the strict policy aimed at controlling population growth, the new policy will allow couples to have two children if one of them is an only child.
But Wang is not alone in his views, according to a survey conducted by the Communist Party controlled “People’s Daily” newspaper.
Among people who qualify under the new law to have a second child, only half wanted to, according to the survey. The high cost of living was cited as the main reason for preferring not to have a second.
Yin San, a 36-year-old working at an international company said she wants to have a second child but that Chinese societal conditions are holding her back.
She is an only child and she does not want her 3-year-old daughter to grow up like her – without a sibling and a companion. But Yin has concerns about raising children in China, given problems like air quality and, in particular, the Chinese education system.
“If you are in China, your kids have to have a Chinese education,” said Yin. “If they do not, they will not be accepted by the society.”
But providing that Chinese education is expensive, something Yin is afraid she can’t afford if she has two children. Yin's daughter, YiYi, started attending Gymboree classes at 8-months-old. Today, her daughter is enrolled at a bilingual kindergarten, and takes a swimming class at an upscale hotel once a week. Music, drawing, and ballet classes are also on the future education list of YiYi – all of which, of course, cost big bucks.
In order to have a second child, Yin said she is planning to emigrate to Australia.
“If I emigrate before 40, I will have another child,” said Yin. “If I stay in China, I will just live with one.”
But to Li Ting, a 29-year-old civil servant in the Beijing government, the new policy is great news. Under the old law, as a civil servant, the only way Li could have had a second child was if she quit her job first.
“It’s a relief,” said Li. “I’m not certain I will have another one, but this policy gives us an option.”
Li is from a village in Hebei province, near Beijing. She has two younger brothers, which was allowed at the time by the local government. But since her husband is an only child, the couple is qualified to have a second child under the new rules.
Li got married this year and is hoping to have her first child soon, but she says her husband wants to have a second child more than she does.
“He was quite lonely,” said Li. “My brothers and I are different. We grew up in the same environment. This kind of relationship is very different from any other friendships.”
The one-child policy was initially introduced in the late 1970s to control population growth by limiting most urban couples to one child and most rural couples to two children if their first child was a girl.
The Chinese government credits the one-child policy with preventing hundreds of millions of births and lifting countless families out of poverty.
But the policy has been highly controversial and has led to forced abortions and sterilizations, even though such measures are illegal. It has also led to a major gender imbalance because of illegal abortions of female fetuses and infanticide of baby girls by parents who have a traditional cultural preference for boys.
Demographers have also long argued that the policy has created a looming crisis by limiting the size of the young labor pool that must in turn support the older generation as they retire. Many believe the new policy is an effort by the new government to cope with the decreasing labor force and the aging population.
But some experts, like Wang Feng, a professor of social science at University of California-Irvine, have questioned how the new policy would even be implemented.
“Logistically, it is going to be very difficult,” said Wang. “Nowadays, people are mobilized. It’s hard to verify who is an only child.”
He was referring to the government’s record keeping being fragmented across hundreds of local governments – with no central database where information can be cross-checked.
The government has not given a timetable for when the new law will be implemented.