China’s efforts to make childbirth attractive amidst a demographic crisis

There is no time like the present to be an expecting parent in China. The Government is happily rolling out a slew of supportive measures to encourage couples to have a third child.

The new sets of incentives include perks such as baby bonuses, extended paid leaves, tax cuts and childbearing subsidies, among others. The Chinese authorities are pushing organizations and local administrations to offer handsome douceur to the parents as an inducement to have a third child.

Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group, a leading agricultural biotechnology company has become the harbinger of new incentive methods offering its employees benefits including cash up to 90,000 yuan (US$14,100), supplementary maternal leave of up to 12 months and 9 days paternal leave, over and above the stipulated period as per Chinese law.

World’s second-largest online travel company announced that it would offer additional benefits in the form of subsidized cost of freezing the eggs of Managers of the company.

The National People’s Congress introduced the three-child policy in August last year. A revised Population and Family Planning law was passed to amend the existing policy of allowing Chinese couples to have two children.

Thereafter many local provinces in China made the necessary changes in their jurisdictional regulations and started offering attractive benefits such as increased parental leave.

Localities such as Nantong announced a housing subsidy for 400 yuan ($63) per square meter to couples with three kids, meanwhile the Northern province of Jilin started providing loans of 200,000 yuan ($31,500) to couples who wish to have children.

In an apparent attempt to address the reluctance of Chinese couples to have children, the government keeps thinking of more lucrative ways to entice people to have kids, but the population is not so easily swayed.

There’s immense pressure on the Communist Party-led China to address and improve the deepening demographic crisis in the country.

The Chinese government’s vigorous efforts to achieve a birth rate turnaround are highly motivated by President Xi Jinping’s big economic plans for the country to double China’s gross domestic product by 2035. The plan not stands threatened by the increasing premature negative growth of China’s population.

Since 1979, China was following a strict one-child policy where any couple violating it faced large fines and other penalties. Females were compelled to undergo sterilization, use contraception and forceful abortions. China ended its one-child policy in 2016 in an attempt to spark a baby boom in the country that was undergoing a steep decline in the birth rate.

There is also the challenge of the rapidly aging population in the country. The one-child population left the Chinese demographic in a weird state where the national workforce shrank too low. In 2016, the Deputy Director of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, Wang Pei’an, openly expressed his wish that under the two-child policy is expected to add 30 million people to China’s working-age population by 2050.

But this relief in the policy didn’t work out as positively as the authorities expected it too and the birth rate kept declining. The new relaxations of the three- child policy were then introduced with attractive financial benefits to tempt people to procreate more and more.

The fact of the matter is the today China’s population consist of too many men, too many old people, and very few young people. An extensively declining workforce is supporting a vast aging population. Many provinces reported difficulties meeting pension payments.

Chinese urban youth born between 1990 and 1999 is a product of China’s one-child policy. The women from this generation are reluctant to have a child, let alone three. Just like many other nations, educated Chinese women are postponing childbirth as they continue to focus on their careers.

Moreover, the high cost of raising kids is holding Chinese couples back from having more children. On the new three-child policy, Shanghainese advertising executive Christie Wei noted that the scant perks and incentives are deficient to convince most women like herself to sacrifice time, capital, and efforts into child- rearing.

Millennials in the country are overcome with mounting debt and extortionate living expenses and are indefinitely putting off plans to have kids in order to avoid the monetary burden that comes with reproducing.

The couples in China are invested in a double-income-no-kids lifestyle or “DINK”. In the country’s hustle culture where people work 12 hours a day, six days a week, having kids is definitely not on the menu.

People on social media voiced that they don’t need trivial financial encouragement but substantial pecuniary support to raise children in the overburdened economy. The Chinese population is uninterested in having kids not because they don’t like children but because they can’t afford to have any. Many citizens are asking how a three-child policy might mean more kids when the two- child version did not.
These continued policies have resuscitated the perennial accusations against the government’s invasive control over women’s bodies and strict violation of sexual and reproductive rights.

What Chinese authorities can instead do is, focus on genuine concerns of the couple rather than offering subpar benefits. The measures can include tackling the gender inequality at workplaces and home, efforts to assist in better work-family balance and facilitating cost-effective, high-quality childcare.

About the Author
Fabien Baussart is the President of CPFA (Center of Political and Foreign Affairs)
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