On January 1, the universal two-child policy went into effect across China to counter the demographic trend of aging. This trend is widely believed to be a result of three-decade-long family planning rules that restricted most couples to only one child, with exceptions made for rural couples whose first child was a girl, families with a disabled first child, and ethnic minority couples. As the new policy was adopted as a tool to cope with the prospective lack of active laborers in the coming years, how the public responds to it will be critical to its success.
The major reason behind the decision to have a second child for a family in China is that a child tends to feel lonely if he or she is the only child in the family. Also, when their parents are elderly, only children will be responsible for taking care of their parents and perhaps even their grandparents by themselves.
However, the reality facing urban couples of childbearing age is that they are pressed by the increasing costs and other burdens related to the raising of children. Meanwhile, trusted babysitters are not easy to be found, as many couples live far away from their parents, and they may not be able to take care of a young grandchild because of their advanced age. Due to economic reasons, it is almost impossible for one parent to quit his or her job to raise children.
Some believe that unless supportive policies for the universal two-child policy follow, Chinese society will not see the baby boom it expected. Others, however, have laid emphasis on education and growing public awareness of the potential disadvantages of an aging society.
Yao Meixiong (China Business News ): A big labor pool is very important to sustain China's economic growth in the coming decades. However, the stringent family planning policy that lasted for three decades has led to a shrinking labor force. In the past, a labor force shortage only happened in certain areas due to industrial restructuring, but it has now become a shortage on the whole. China's advantage in cheap labor will no longer be present.
In this context, encouraging couples to have two children is becoming an urgent task. Couples in cities are not so willing to have a second child. This is understandable considering heavy pressures on young couples who are themselves only children and thus together have to support four elderly people and one child already. Most of them complain that the work of raising one child is too heavy, let alone a second one. Thus it is crucial to take effective measures to support the two-child policy and reduce the pressure on rearing a second child.
It is a general trend throughout the world for the state to get involved in the raising of children together with families. Currently, the authorities are supposed to seize this prime moment of not having too heavy pension burdens on the shoulders to launch a mechanism of raising children based on both families' and the state's efforts. As the aging issue will become more severe after 2021, the state by then will have more difficulties in balancing the work of raising the young and supporting the elderly.
Gan Tiejun (Sina.com.cn): The universal two-child policy now grants the right of having two children for all couples. This is a necessary adjustment and a big step forward in terms of China's population structure. At a time of low birth rates, a baby boom is seen as a blessing for the nation.
Some people worry that a huge population will make it more difficult for job hunting, but evidence in the past three decades in many places around the country shows that people tend to swarm to populous big cities to find jobs instead of staying in small towns or villages. The logic here is simple: The more concentrated the population is in a place, the more job opportunities will be created.
Yi Fuxian (Cul.qq.com): A marked change has taken place when it comes to population policies: A large population is no longer seen as a burden. At a time when demographic dividends are retreating, the Chinese public has come to a consensus on the necessity for the adjustment of the population policy.
In my opinion, even the two-child policy is not enough. The previous family planning policy has not only resulted in a declining population growth rate, but sped up the aging of the population. This practice has reduced the Chinese population's proportion to the world's total, from more than 22 percent in 1980 to less than 19 percent in 2015. Worse still, in recent years, China's newborn babies account for only 10 percent of the world's new births.
Without effective policies to encourage childbirth, the median age of the Chinese population will have reached 55 by 2050, while that of the world's population stands at 36. The Chinese economy's proportion to the global economy will begin to decline around 2027 at the peak of 17.5 percent.
An evolving attitude
Zhang Binbin (Economic Information Daily ): Traditionally, Chinese families tended to have several children, believing that a family would have more happiness if it had as many children as it liked to. To some extent, parents hoped to depend on their children to support them when they got old, due to the lack of sufficient social security. Also, poor medical and health conditions in those years made families want to have more children as a way to cope in the case of a child's death. In the 1970s, due to an underdeveloped economy, relatively low employment, and poor living conditions, in order to prevent an uncontrolled expansion of the population, the state gradually adopted the family planning policy.
With economic growth and the rising status of women, however, birth levels began to drop. More and more couples now choose to have a baby later than previous generations and hope to marshal all resources available for the family, so as to raise an excellent child. Nowadays, if a couple wants to have a child, they do so mostly because they love children. However, for this love they have to pay a high price as the cost of raising a child in modern times, particularly in cities, is constantly increasing involving problems like the care of pregnant women and babies, the children's education, etc.
As an active response to the aging population, the Chinese Government has adjusted its family planning policy to allow all couples to have two children. But how to rekindle the public's interest in having two children is becoming a hard question. There must be enough encouragement to remove their doubts and worries.
Meanwhile, we have to realize that in two or three decades' time, the demand for labor will no longer be simply "population," but human resources that are capable of modern production and management. This requires the government to increase spending on education while encouraging more births.
Wang Yizhi (World.huanqiu.com): The public suspects that the universal two-child policy has come too late. For those couples born between the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, this policy is good news. They mostly have a stronger passion for a second child than those born after 1985, and relatively speaking are more financially capable of raising two children.
The aging trend in China will not change in the long run, and the new demographic policy will not be able to reverse the trend, either. However, it is able to, to some extent, slow down the pace of aging.
When the two-child policy is fully implemented, a certain number of Chinese families will see changes taking place in their family structures and this will help them better understand the trend of an aging population. The public's mature and rational concept on childbirth will in turn influence the state's population policies, helping make them more acceptable and effective.
Given the huge population base of the country, we have reasons to feel confident that the new policy will finally help improve China's demographic structure, as well as its social and economic development.
Copyedited by Mara Lee Durrell
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