China: The men who are single and the women who don’t want kids
Waiyee Yip, BBC
A once-in-a-decade population census has shown that births in China have fallen to their lowest level since the 1960s – leading to calls for an end to birth control policies. But some in China say these policies aren’t the only thing that’s stopping them.
Despite being hassled by her mum about it, Beijing resident Lili* is not planning to have children any time soon.
The 31-year-old, who has been married for two years, wants to “live my life” without the “constant worries” of raising a child.
“I have very few peers who have children, and if they do, they’re obsessed about getting the best nanny or enrolling the kids in the best schools. It sounds exhausting.”
Lili spoke to the BBC on condition of anonymity, noting that her mother would be devastated if she knew how her daughter felt.
But this difference of opinion between the generations reflects the changing attitudes of many young urban Chinese toward childbirth.
The data speaks for itself.
China’s census, released earlier this month, showed that around 12 million babies were born last year – a significant decrease from the 18 million in 2016, and the lowest number of births recorded since the 1960s.
While the overall population grew, it moved at the slowest pace in decades, adding to worries that China may face a population decline sooner than expected.
Shrinking populations are problematic due to the inverted age structure, with more old people than young.
When that happens, there won’t be enough workers in the future to support the elderly, and there may be an increased demand for health and social care.
Ning Jizhe, head of the National Bureau of Statistics, said at a government presentation that lower fertility rates are a natural result of China’s social and economic development.
As countries become more developed, birth rates tend to fall due to education or other priorities such as careers.
Neighbouring countries like Japan and South Korea, for example, have also seen birth rates fall to record lows in recent years despite various government incentives for couples to have more children.
But experts say China’s situation could be uniquely exacerbated given the number of men who are finding it difficult to find a wife in the first place, let alone think of starting a family.
After all, there is a severe gender imbalance in the country – last year, there were 34.9 million more males than females.
Experts say it is also because the relaxing of the policy did not come with other changes that support family life – such as monetary support for education or access to childcare facilities.
Many people simply cannot afford to raise children amid the rising costs of living, they say.