Drastic Decline in China’s Population Growth Rate — Reproductive Anxiety Among Post-90s Generation

On Jan. 21, data released by the National Bureau of Statistics in China disclosed that China’s population growth is in drastic decline. The demographic dividends are now coming to an end.

According to statistics, in 2018 about 15.23 million babies were born, which is a 2 million decrease compared to 2017. The birth rate and natural population growth rate (the difference between the birth rate and the death rate) in 2018 reached the lowest point we’ve seen over the past decades.

At such a rate, the Chinese population will cease to grow at some point around 2027. The birth rate in 2030 is expected to decline to around 11 million.

2018 is the third year since the one-child policy was relaxed. By the end of 2015, China loosened the family planning policy that had lasted for decades. Under the new policy, families could have two children if one parent, rather than both parents, was an only child. In the meantime, stimulus policies have been put forward by multiple municipal governments nationwide. For instance, in Guangdong province, maternity leave can be as long as 178 days, without interfering with other employee benefits. Later, in 2016 the two-child policy was implemented allowing all parents to have two children.

According to the data, over half of the newborns in 2018 are the family’s second child, however, this means that as soon as the pile-up effect of the two-child policy comes to an end, the number of annual newborns will continue to drop drastically. While some families are considering having a second baby, some don’t want to have babies at all.

the two-child policy (source: takungpao)

As Chief economist of Evergrande Research Institute Ren Zeping, wrote on microblogging platform Weibo, “China has always been a populous country, however in recent years we are facing a population crisis with declining birth rates and an aging society. Under the comprehensive two-child policy, the birth rate has increased, but the main population giving birth are still the post-70s generation. Those born in the 80’s or 90’s are getting ever more reluctant to have children. Many choose to get married late and postpone having children, and some choose the DINK [double income no kids] lifestyle. High costs including housing, medical care, education and legal protection are contributing factors.”

In the report by Evergrande Research Institute, respondents were asked to select the major factors that stood out among all the reasons explaining the low birth rate. The three main reasons turned out to be educational cost, lack of time and energy as well as housing price. In terms of educational cost, the gap between private and public kindergartens and primary schools is getting wider and wider. With the limited resources in public schools, young parents feel obliged to send their kids to private kindergartens, which cost a fortune for ordinary working class families. As for time and energy needed to care for a child, 66.7 percent of the respondents think that it is a decisive factor that affects their reproductive choices.

According to the report, population remains an important pillar and sign of a country’s national strength. By the end of 2017, China’s population has reached 1.386 billion, still ranking the first in the world. As seen in the history of China, flourishing historical periods always result in booming populations. For instance, during the golden age of three emperors in China’s Qing Dynasty, China reached the peak of its population growth rate. In this sense, India has great development potential, with its massive population and rather young population structure. In 2015, the average age of Indians was only 26.7, while the corresponding numbers in China and America were 37 and 37.6.

The correlation between population growth and national development are also evident in the history of developed countries like Japan. In the 1970’s and 80’s, post-war baby boomers became the major driving force of Japan’s economic development. However, ever since the beginning of the 21st century, the reproductive willingness of Japanese people declined drastically. Meanwhile baby boomers are aging, which inevitably accelerates its pace of becoming a greying society, just like China.

aging society in Japan (source: 视觉中国)

Modern humans, as a living creature, have three basic needs: existence, reproduction and online surfing.

The matter implicates an anxiety of reproduction for the generations to come.

In China, generations are classified by the decade a person is born into. The post-80s generation are probably the last generation willing to balance between secular values and self realization. The post-90s generations, that resemble the 80’s generation in America, are those born with more focus on their own life and careers, many of whom are brought up by middle class parents.

DINK (double income no kids) family, a concept that emerged in the 1960’s in Europe and America, is now generally welcomed by the post-90s generation in China. If you ask an average married Chinese couple born in the 90’s why they wouldn’t want kids, 80 percent of them would answer it’s too expensive for them to raise a kid.

A WeChat public account called DINK community wondered how it’s possible that 50 years ago, people were living in poorer conditions and still gave birth to loads of kids. If you say it’s due to an unfavorable environment, then what environment is worse than that of the times of war.

Apparently high cost is not the only decisive factor. It’s that couples would rather spend money on traveling than raising a baby. It also has to do with self realization, and the desire to flee from collective tendencies and the “shackles” of social norms.

It is always seen as inappropriate not to have kids from a traditional Chinese point of view. As cited from ancient classics Mencius, There are three ways to be unfilial; having no sons is the worst.

More babies mean more responsibilities, and perhaps most of the post-90s generation are not ready to sacrifice their own benefits for the country’s development.

Featured photo credit to cn.rfi.fr