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China's Two-Child Policy Shift May Be Too Little, Too Late


China saw a smaller than expected uptick in the number of births following its landmark decision to end the country's controversial one-child policy

In 2016, the number of births in China increased following its landmark decision to end the country's controversial one-child policy and allow all parents to have two children.

Officials were quick to claim success, arguing that the increase of around 1.4 million new births (compared with an average from 2010-2015) was a sign the new policy was working.

Nearly half of the 17.86 million births last year were second children, but the increase was much smaller than officials and experts expected.

For many families, it is not the statistics that are worrisome, but the financial demands parents face in raising a second child.

FILE - a girl plays with an electronic toy while standing with her family at a Mother's Day-themed disco dance party for children in Beijing.
FILE - a girl plays with an electronic toy while standing with her family at a Mother's Day-themed disco dance party for children in Beijing.


Not cheap

Liu, a government employee spending the day with his family at Houhai Lake in the central part of Beijing, said after the policy was rolled out a year ago, he and his wife considered having another. In the end however, they felt the burden was too much to bear.

"[I] wish we could have a second child. One child on his own, is too lonely," Liu said. "It would be better to have two children."

Many parents noted the extreme costs of living in China, in particular larger cities such as Beijing.

More than just food and clothing expenses, parents said they spend as much as $1,000 to $2,000 (some even more) each month on extracurricular classes for everything from art to dancing and skating lessons.

In many cases, parents said they are taking a wide range of courses to see where their children's interests are and to give them an edge in a highly competitive country.

Education and extracurricular activities are not the only expenses, added James King.

"Of course, there's also travel overseas, which is very expensive," King said. "We try to travel abroad at least once a year."

FILE - A man lifts a child up to lantern decorations setup ahead of the Chinese New Year in Beijing, China.
FILE - A man lifts a child up to lantern decorations setup ahead of the Chinese New Year in Beijing, China.

Shared burden

James and his wife Lucy, who have a second child, said that they feel the benefits outweigh the costs, but added each family's situation is different.

"In the future, [a] child must deal with four elderly parents, but having a brother or sister can make it easier to divide up those responsibilities."

What is clear is the two-child policy is really more a question that those with residence in China's major coastal cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, are struggling with. For those from other provinces, bigger families are more common, despite the restrictions.

But that doesn't mean their children see things differently.

Life's pressures

Bai, a young hotel management worker from neighboring Hebei province, said his family, like many others where he is from, ignored fines in the past, to have more children. Especially until a boy was born.

Although Bai has two older sisters and comes from a big family by China standards, he was cautious when asked about his eventual plans for having children.

"Life is very stressful, but if I was to have a child, one would be enough," Bai said. "Either a boy or girl would be fine."

Demographic juggernaut

Traditional Chinese culture puts more emphasis on giving birth to boys as they carry on the family name. And according to tradition, girls are expected to take care of the family they join through marriage.

The over-emphasis on boys has led to a massive gender gap in China, and for critics it is one of the tragedies of the one-child policy. And that's not the only demographic challenge China faces despite its massive population.

China's working population is shrinking as the number of pensioners increases rapidly.

FILE - Li Yan (L), pregnant with her second child, lies on a bed as her daughter places her head on her mother's stomach in Hefei, Anhui province, Feb. 20, 2014.
FILE - Li Yan (L), pregnant with her second child, lies on a bed as her daughter places her head on her mother's stomach in Hefei, Anhui province, Feb. 20, 2014.


Starting next year, there is likely to be a persistent decrease in the number of children being born, experts say, as the number of women eligible to have a second child will begin to shrink as more fill their quota.

Like many of its Asian neighbors, China has a low fertility rate and so far the government has offered little in the form of incentives to encourage more births aside from ending its one child policy. And because of that, some critics say, the policy shift may be too little too late.

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