Shenzhen, China – On a stunning June afternoon, in the quiet corner of Lianwuashan Park in the heart of Shenzhen, a high-tech city in China, 25-year-old Mr. Ling engages in clear, low-tech activities to scrutinize potential partner ads.
Men receive light blue cards, women light pink, grouped by birth decade. The cards are rigidly hung on hundreds of wires in the Matchmaking Corner circular structure built by the city government, with offices just a short distance away.
Like many young men and women in Shenzhen, women who do not have a formal residence in the city, Ling has a very small chance of finding a wife and starting a family, which is very small, even if he prefers to take it. course.
“The biggest problem is working and having enough money and getting a house,” he said. “I have some friends who used to work in Shenzhen but have now moved to other areas. The cost of living puts too much pressure on them. ”
Ling’s hukou, China’s family-based internal registration system, links much of his health և social security, as well as the education of future children, to a rural village in the far north of Shandong Province, his birthplace.
Ling, who did not want his full name protected by his privacy, works as a real estate agent. But the point is, beyond answering phones, it leads potential buyers to real estate, with little chance of moving upwards.
As China seeks to allow couples to have up to three children, it is becoming increasingly clear that the government needs to address the needs and concerns of people like Ling who want to start a family, have children but are under pressure. is lacking in education. Living expenses և Obstacles to movement, such as the hukou system – realities of life in China that prevent many working couples from thinking about having more than one child, let alone two or three.
“How can we take care of nine?”
An online survey in China in early May found that just over half of young people do not want to have one child, especially a second or third.
One reason is the price of buying a home. Most men think they should have property before proposing marriage, so this is the main pre-marital barrier for a man և his large family, which often helps to pay for that first home. Others included concerns about who should take care of the children, the high cost of education, post-school programs, point-and-shoot systems in first- and second-class cities that decide whether a child can be admitted to a local school, or a change in mindset. younger people who want to pursue individual dreams that do not revolve around starting a family.
Women who take the lion’s share of their care are also less likely to have a second child after exhaustion from the first care.
A remark circulating on Chinese social media a few hours after China announced its entry into the three-child policy on the last day of May was that a couple was saying: “We already have to take care of a family of eight. How can we take care of nine?”
Translation: In China, working-age couples often have to take care of themselves, as well as two groups of parents who, if any, do not have much income from savings or retirement plans, in addition to the children they already have.
Although the parents of such workers often help care for their children at home, the costs of health care as they grow older, as well as the costs of raising their children, are a huge burden.
In 2020, China’s fertility rate slowed to 1.3 births per woman, which is likely to change until the Beijing authorities ease the pressure on working families. Although the authorities say efforts are being made to improve maternity leave insurance policies and support tax and housing policies, many working parents in China have no hope.
Benefits received after the one-child policy easing in 2015 failed to reduce the burden և significantly increase the birth rate.
Chiang Kingsong, an associate professor at the Xiamen University Institute for Population Studies, said the government should go further and completely remove the boundaries so that families can decide if they want children.
“The Chinese government can ease the number of children in families, provide maximum support to families with the ability to have more babies,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Instead of assigning how many children they can have, the government should reduce the burden on the family to increase their intention to give birth,” he said. “It is predictable that even if couples were allowed to have a third child, most couples would not allow it.”
Moving the needle
The failure or stagnation of the birth rate may not be so significant at this time, but as China’s population ages rapidly, economic growth could hit as the workforce shrinks in 15 years, according to a post by chief economist Yu Soo Economist Intelligence Department.
The new three-child policy could also have a negative short-term negative impact on women, she writes, with companies suggesting that women want more children and may prefer to hire men to avoid maternity costs and work. far from time.
Ashton Werdery, an associate professor of sociology and demography at Penn State University, says the three-child policy seems to be more a response to recent census data showing that China is rapidly aging and closing in on its peak population. : , but a detailed policy to try to relieve the pressure may come later.
“I would not be surprised if they turned to some special loans that people get to have more children or other policies that mitigate the challenges of having more children,” he told Al Jazeera.
For example, Chinese authorities are reportedly encouraging some districts to try parental leave schemes.
“I could have imagined that China could build more apartments, which would be more favorable for large families, and so on,” he said. “The Chinese state is much more involved in the economy, so it can move the needle a little bit.”
Stan Acceleration Economist Stan Rosell, Co-Chair of the Rural Education Action Plan for Stanford University, China’s demographic problem is not so much quantity as quality.
Much of the lack of this quality of workforce is due to the fact that China has not been able to provide education for all young people through high school, especially in rural areas.
Without raising the level of education of rural children, rehabilitating those who have not been able to go to high school, just having more children is not going to solve China’s work problems, let alone make it average. income traps such as Mexico or Brazil.
“The quality of people in this post-industrial world is really important,” Rosell said. “If you do not have a high school education, you will not be able to successfully sell online and you will not be able to start a business.”
Recent research by Rozelle shows that the decline in birth rates is largely due to rural China, largely because women there do not think their families can support one or two children.
“My hypothesis is that the great decline in fertility has been mainly from rural China over the last 10 years,” he told Al Azira. “Women now have a lot more leeway in making important decisions such as family size.”
China is currently pursuing a major policy of revitalizing rural communities across the country, but much of it is focused on agriculture, infrastructure, rather than education, health, and social welfare.
Rosell says that over the years, surveys of rural families have shown that although they value the modernization of that infrastructure, for most, the priority is one thing. Education:
“It comes at a time when we do not need a large workforce to lead our societies, we need a high-quality workforce,” Rosell said. “So it is necessary to include education for the reconstruction of villages?” Absolutely. “