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Why young Chinese women are resisting calls to have children

By Nina Steele 

Childfree Chinese womenA year after abandoning its one child policy, all the signs are that the increase in new births that had been predicted by the Chinese authorities, has not come to pass. Abandoning the policy had become inevitable as a way of addressing China’s aging population. There was much celebration at the time, however, instead of a rush to have babies, many young Chinese women have chosen to remain childless.

Indeed, the Chinese government had expected 3 million babies to be born in 2016, as a direct result of the policy change. Instead, the latest figures show that there were only one million additional births in 2016. Among the reasons cited for the lower than expected birth rate is the high cost of living, and the fact that many young urban women are choosing to remain childless, in order to preserve their careers.

This is how one online news outlet describes the attitude of women vis a vis the relaxation of the one child policy: “The Chinese government relaxed its one-child policy in October 2015, allowing all couples to have a second child. But the state didn’t take account of the change in welfare policies for families or employers. So the majority of career women said no to the offer out of fear of being further devalued on the job market”. With regards to single Chinese women in particular, the source goes on to say that: “Unlike their counterparts in the developed world, Chinese women receive no effective protection from the law in case their marriages dissolve. Knowing that bleak career prospects and a non-existent safety net await them, these women have every reason not to trade their career or personal freedom for a wedding.”

The part about weddings matters because, in China, marriage and children go hand in hand. There are heavy penalties imposed on single mothers, which means that women who choose not to marry, inevitably end up childless. According to a BBC article: “Single women without a valid reproduction permit from the government are routinely denied birth certificates for their children. They will not be given a hukou – the official household registration – and so their child will have trouble gaining admission to school or access to affordable healthcare. Moreover, if women cannot produce a marriage certificate upon giving birth, they are frequently slapped with a “social maintenance fee” for violating family planning policies”.

With all that in mind, it is no surprise that the end of the one child policy wasn’t the success that the government had hoped for. It seems that it is not just the one child policy that needs changing, but the whole culture, and its inherent bias against women.

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