Why many Chinese women are giving motherhood a miss


It is often presumed that government policies are the main factors determining birth patterns in China. This may not be the case any more.

By the end of 2015, China ended the controversial one-child policy, allowing couples to have two children. A baby boom was expected. But it hasnt materialised and it is very unlikely that it will. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the birth rate in 2019 fell to 1.048, the lowest on record since the founding of the Peoples Republic, except in 1961 when millions lost their lives in a widespread famine.

When the one-child policy was lifted and people were allowed to have a second child, the whole nation let out a collective sigh of relief. The number of babies did rise the following year but then fell again several years in a row.

Why dont Chinese want more babies? The high cost of raising children is often cited as the main reason. Expensive housing, education and health care make raising children a costly business.

But the reality is far more complex. One important reason, in my view, is that women have changed. They dont care to be only the reproductive tool of the family.

A large percentage of todays women of childbearing age are from the one-child generation, who have grown up in an affluent society and enjoyed the lavish attention of their parents and grandparents. They tend to be assertive people who dare to pursue their own dreams. Many urban women are well educated and career-minded.

The story Jojo Zhang, a 36-year-old bank manager in Beijing, narrates is quite typical. Zhang was one of the women who responded to a post I put up on WeChat, looking for women to interview who have given motherhood a miss.

An only child, she had loving parents and a happy childhood. But she never had a burning desire to have children. About 10 years ago, some of her friends got married and started to have children. Few found the experience rewarding. It just takes too much time and energy, they advised her. Dont bother having children. She took it to heart.

We modern women have many hats, Zhang says. We have our careers, our friends, our hobbies and interests. Personally I dont need to have children to feel fulfilled. She is a passionate traveller and yoga practitioner.

Although her parents were not thrilled with her decision not to have children, they grudgingly accepted it. Her long-time boyfriend, however, broke up with her.

Shes now with an older man who has children from an earlier marriage. She added that she gets along well with her stepchildren, but didnt expect them to look after her in her old age, for which she has prepared financially.

In China, parents used to rely on their children to care for them in their old age. But affluent middle-class Chinese are well able to take care of themselves in their retirement, which reduces the practical need to produce offspring.

Besides, China is not the best country to be a mother.

According to a survey conducted by Zhaopin, one of Chinas largest online recruitment platforms, in 2017, 40.1 per cent of working women with no children were unwilling to have children, 62.7 per cent with one child didnt want another one and 63.4 per cent believed childbearing would negatively affect their career development.

Boss of Chinas Trip.com on a mission to promote working mothers

This was a major consideration for Wang Li, a 38-year-old consultant in Shanghai, when her husband raised the question of having a second child back in 2016. Wang refused, worrying that it would dampen her career prospects.

But policies are important. Right now, single women are punished for having babies and unmarried women are banned from accessing assisted reproductive technology. In December, feminist Teresa Xu sued a hospital for refusing to freeze her eggs. The verdict is still awaited.

If the authorities are truly concerned that the low birth rate is threatening Chinas economic growth, then allow women, single or married, to have children. In the end, to have children or not is a womans right.

In the meantime, the government should introduce social policies that can help mothers balance work commitments and their private lives, such as mandatory maternity leave, good childcare facilities and access to preschool education, and severely punish companies which refuse to hire women of childbearing age or sack pregnant women. Only then is there any hope of the birth rate rising.

Source: https://www.scmp.com

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