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2022-08-17 11:22:10

Over the past few years, China has moved from a one-child policy, to a two-child policy, to three.

But young families are going in the other direction: Most say they plan to have only one child, and a growing number say they don’t plan to have children at all. The birth rate hit a record low in 2021.

As the country ages, many fear it’s on track to become a nation of retirees. Policymakers have tried to encourage people to have more children with incentives including tax breaks and increased paid family leave. But many young families say the cost of raising a child remains far too high.

It seems policymakers were listening. Seventeen Chinese agencies jointly announced Tuesday a raft of new measures to encourage families to have more babies, addressing issues from day care to workplace discrimination. The announcement also refers to reducing “medically unnecessary abortions,” in a move that has rights advocates worried.

The group, led by the National Health Commission and the National Develop and Reform Commission, said the guidelines will support people in the whole cycle of starting a family from “marriage and childbearing to childcare and education.”

“This guideline shows that the focus of China’s fertility policy has shifted from control to support,” Ren Yuan, a professor at Fudan University’s Population Research Institute in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone. In addition to simply regulating the number of babies, the state is “shifting its focus to offering relevant services and support, and addressing specific difficulties people encounter when planning to have babies,” Ren added.

Deng Shuang, a Shanghai-based mom of a six-year-old, considered having a second child when her son entered kindergarten three years ago. But she decided not to, rather than “going through the hard times all over again and a major lifestyle change.”

The full-time mom lives in a 90-square-meter apartment with her husband and son in suburban Shanghai. “We would need a bigger apartment if we got a second child, not only to accommodate the baby but also for my in-laws to live with us to take care of the baby,” she told Sixth Tone. “That would mean more financial pressure for my husband, who’s the only bread earner in the family now,” she added.

“I would choose to have a second child if the costs are lowered. I guess it all depends on how effectively these plans are implemented, ” Deng said.

The 36-year-old didn’t seek a job after giving birth to her son because babysitting and home chores took all of her time. Even though Deng had more time after her son went to kindergarten, she still couldn’t get a full-time job because kindergartens end at around 4 p.m., too early for most workers to finish their jobs.

Yan Li, a doctor in suburban Shanghai, went back to work shortly after her first child was born. Now mom to a six-year-old and a two-year old, Yan lives under the same roof with her husband, two sons, and her in-laws in a 100-square-meter apartment. She relies on her own and her husband’s parents to take care of the children while she’s at work.

Yan and her husband bought a second apartment last year, tripling their monthly mortgage payment.

“I never regret the decision to have a second kid because I love my sons, but we sure are under more pressure,” she said.

“A shortage of infant care and child care services in the public service system increased the burden on Chinese residents. The accompanying higher cost for infant and child care in turn limits the population’s childbearing behavior,” Ren Yuan wrote in a March article.

Editor: David Cohen.

(Header image: VCG)