China Delivers Three-Child Policy, but It’s Too Late for Many

A year ago, China announced a policy that would limit most families to only one child. Shortly after, it was implemented. One-child families were given government assistance and support to have a second child, but the mandate was for those that want to have a third or fourth child to pay for the “social cost” of the second child. After a year of rough compliance, the policy is now on its way to becoming a reality for millions of Chinese families

Pre-natal sex-selective abortions have been illegal in China since the one-child policy was instituted in 1978, but according to a new study, the one-child policy has done little to stop the practice of parents aborting female fetuses.

When Li Fangfang, a 33-year-old former Hangzhou official, was fired by her employer in December for giving birth to her third child, she went to court. The decision was made after an arbitration panel ruled that she was not covered by the protection of young mothers because she had violated China’s fertility policy. Her case received a lot of publicity, but she was reluctant to use her full name in media interviews for fear of being criticized online for breaking the rules. All this time she didn’t think she had done anything wrong. Today, Beijing is siding with them because of demographic trends. On Monday, it was announced that all Chinese couples will be allowed to have three children. I’m very excited, said Ms. Lee. Births deemed excessive by Chinese authorities threaten parents with fines and other penalties. Li, who is awaiting the court’s ruling, said she wants China to become a fertility-friendly society. No child is superfluous. In an online support group for mothers with more than two children, Ms. Lee and other mothers handed out virtual gifts in red envelopes to celebrate Monday’s announcement, which came with a pledge to make raising children less expensive. But in modern China, families who want many children are increasingly rare. The official introduction of the one-child policy in 1980 changed the mindset for more than three decades and made one-child families the norm. In recent years, China has gradually relaxed birth restrictions; since 2016, all couples are allowed to have two children. Yet the birth rate has been declining for four years in a row. I have dreamed of this day for a long time. When the time finally comes, it will be too late for me. – Xu Li, primary school teacher in Shandong Province What China is allowing now, some Chinese have wanted for decades. But they say the relief would have been much greater a few decades ago, when more women were of childbearing age and many parents were striving to have more children. With the few families firmly entrenched in the fabric of Chinese society, there is little politicians can do to turn back the clock, writes Julian Evans-Pritchard, an economist at Capital Economics, in a report published Monday. For Xu Li, a teacher in Shandong province, had wanted to have a third child for years, hoping the government would ease restrictions. I have dreamed of this day for a long time. When the time finally comes, it will be too late for me, says Ms Xu, now 45. What is now permitted in China is increasingly at odds with the tendency of young women to postpone or renounce marriage and children. Marriage and having children are no longer the only options for women. We have more options and can live our lives in different ways, says Luo Dan, 38 years old, who lives in Beijing with several cats and her boyfriend. word-image-10177

The one-child policy was introduced in China in 1980 and changed people’s mindset in more than three decades. Single-parent families have become the norm, although restrictions on children have been relaxed in recent years.

Photo: kim kyung-hoon/reuters Li Moyu, The 44-year-old former executive of a technology company said she and her husband, both graduates of elite Chinese universities, prioritized their careers and might not have had children if their parents had not whined about their grandchildren and called them selfish. When she was about 30 years old, Mrs. Lee gave birth to a son who is now in first grade. So far, we haven’t found a good reason to have a second child, says Ms Li, who now works as a writer at a PR company in Beijing. Her current salary is much lower than her previous job, but she needs a flexible work schedule to take care of her son. Of course, many families took the opportunity to have a second child. More than half of newborns between 2016 and 2019 were second births, official figures show. But many women, especially in big cities, find the prospect too daunting. The downward trend in China’s birth rate is well documented. Yet the announcement of China’s decennial census in May set off alarm bells. Huang Wencheng, a researcher at the think tank Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, said the reluctance of young people to start a family is even worse than he thought. I don’t think people realize how quickly the mindset of young people has changed, he said. Following the announcement of the easing of restrictions on Monday, the official Xinhua news agency reported that the number of marriage registrations in 2020 had fallen by 40 percent compared to 2013. Xinhua, which attributed the data to the National Health Commission, reported that Chinese born after 1990 say they want an average of 1.66 children, 10 percent fewer than the generation born after 1980. The number of women between the ages of 20 and 34 will fall by nearly 3.7 million year-on-year by 2020, according to Xinhua. The recently released census data shows that the greatest demographic disparity is in China’s northeastern region, where more than 11 million people have fallen away in the past decade. Heilongjiang, the country’s northernmost province, lost nearly 17 percent of its population between 2010 and 2020, and of those who remained, 23 percent were 60 and older. The percentage of people under the age of 14 is only 10%. In an online discussion group, a mother told me that she had come to her hometown in Heilongjiang with her three children, which is so rare there that neighbors asked if she had given birth abroad, where Chinese restrictions on having children do not apply. Other parts of China that have been particularly diligent in introducing family planning are also experiencing serious problems. Rudong County in Jiangsu Province was one of the first local governments to implement the one-child policy. Nearly 40% of the county’s 880,000 residents are now 60 or older, and nearly 30% are 65 or older, and the county is in trouble. Because there are too few children, many high schools are no longer accepting new students. Faced with a growing demand for care homes, local authorities are looking for private investors to help the 7,000 or so elderly people who cannot look after themselves. Corrections and additions Li Fangfang is a 33-year-old former official from Hangzhou. In an earlier version of this article, his name was incorrect. Li Fangfang. (corrected June 1)

The demographic challenges of China

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the punishment for having more than one child in China?

In early 2018, China’s Communist Party leaders implemented a “family planning policy” that has brought a new requirement for all married couples to have at most one child. The recent decision by the Chinese government to allow families to have a second child has had many excited by the prospect of new life and prosperity. Whether or not the Chinese government will be able to enforce the policy is another matter entirely, but for the moment, it seems to be too little, too late for many.

What happens if you broke the one child policy in China?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been following the new rule that went into effect in China on Monday, and you’re confused about what it means for the country. China has announced a new one-child policy, possibly saving millions of future lives. The policy, which was announced on Monday by the Communist Party, will reduce the country’s population by about 300 million people by allowing only one child in a family.

What are the long term effects of China’s one child policy?

The Chinese government recently decided to implement a three-child policy, which means that couples can have only one child. The decision was made in response to the country’s economic growth and the overpopulation of its population, which was growing at a rate of about 1.3 billion people per year. The one child policy was started in 1979, and was enforced for most of the 1980’s. The Chinese government implemented a two-child policy in 2013, but the majority of the population was still affected by the one-child policy. The one-child policy and its two-child alternative ended in 2015, but that hasn’t stopped the world’s most populous nation from racking up an entire generation of single children. China’s birth rate has plummeted since the policy change, which some say is due to the country’s aging population and the economic downturn. Others say the policy has resulted in an oversupply of men, which has led to a dearth of women seeking husbands, contributing to a “marriage squeeze” in which Chinese couples seek to marry and have children at the same time.

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