China recently allowed couples to have up to three children, a significant shift from the country’s previous two-child policy, which was only enacted in 2016, before which China had enforced the one-child policy to control population growth. The latest decision came days after China’s census data showed that its population growth slipped to its slowest rate since the 1950s. But the move that aims to improve declining birth rates across the country hasn’t found many takers.
According to economists and demographers, it is not a question of being allowed to have three children, but being able to support three children in China. The rising costs of living, housing, education, and a lack of support have meant that most couples are not considering having more than one child.
A deleted poll by Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, had 90 percent of the respondents saying they “would not consider” having three children.
Many women are also not choosing to have more children because of workplace discrimination and reluctance by employers to allow maternity leave. Many women have often reported being dismissed or fired after informing employers about their pregnancy. Many places also make female employees sign contracts that stipulate that they can’t get pregnant while working with the company.
The government had announced that it would be introducing “supportive measures, which will be conducive to improving our country's population structure, fulfilling the country's strategy of actively coping with an ageing population and maintaining the advantage, endowment of human resources.”
But what these supportive measures are remains to be seen.
China’s new policy is not for freedom of reproductive rights but one which seeks to keep the country’s status as a manufacturing global power with a stable workforce. Other policies like increasing the age of retirement are also aimed at maintaining the country’s labour force.
Critics of the policy say the move will do little to nothing to boost birth rates. What, instead, is needed is a comprehensive change at workplaces to stop discrimination against women, proper social safety nets, and making education and housing affordable for people to start considering having more children.
“It is an important policy move, but the three-child policy alone will not lead to a sustained rebound in the fertility rate,” said Yuan Xin, a professor at Nankai University in Tianjin. “A whole package of services and polices (sic), such as childcare, tax rebates for parents, housing subsidies and even gender equality, are needed to create a social environment that encourages parents to have more babies.”
“A comprehensive policy package ranging from tax incentives, education and housing subsidies, more generous maternity leave, universal provision of childcare” is needed for the three-child policy to be effective, said Liu Li-Gang, managing director and chief China economist at Citigroup Inc.
(Edited by : Shoma)
First Published: IST