The biggest China news this week is that the country will ease up family planning restrictions and allow couples to have two children after 36 years of the strict one-child policy. State media Xinhua news agency reports the move is "intended to balance population development and address the challenge of an ageing population.”
How big of an impact will this have? I'm not optimistic. At the very least, for my peers, it won't work the magic the government is anticipating.
If it were five years ago, the situation might have been different. But today, the generation with the strongest desire to have children, those born in the 80s, are now reluctant to have kids despite prime reproductive age. For those who come from well-educated families (mostly in cities) or well educated themselves, many are hesitant to give birth to a first child; let alone a second.
Time has changed. It's not like old times, pre-one child policy, when people have children and their biggest hope is for the children to survive, get married, and have offsprings themselves to continue the family bloodline. Older people like to think that one more child is no biggie: "just adding another pair of chopsticks to the dining table," they say, which perfectly represents their mentality towards having more children.
Now, an extra child could mean millions of dollars of debt for the family: imported milk powder, fancy clothes, toys, apartments in better school districts, countless tutoring hours, expenses for studying abroad, "wedding houses" parents of the groom buy for their newlywed son - whatever parents think are best for their kids - it all adds up.
Decades of the one-child policy had forced parents to bank everything they have financially, emotionally and phychologically on that one child. So, of course they would want to provide the best they can for their child, but not every family can afford the best for two children. Think about it: if you have two boys, you'd need to provide two "wedding houses", which could easily add up to HK$10 million in major cities.
Would parents lower the cost they're willing to spend on their children now they're allowed to have two? Unlikely. It's always easier to raise the standards rather than to go backwards and lower them.
Having children was once a necessity for descendants to carry on the family name, but now children are a luxury. A big portion of those born after 1985 are hesitant to have their first child, as they've learned from education and experience how huge a responsibility children are.
It's hard enough to make ends meet in our own lives in a highly competitive society as it is, forget throwing children on top of it!
When this group is done hesitating and have their first child around 35, how do you then convince them to have a second one when they're nearly 40? Humans are egoist, not many of us are willing to have the burden of a child's college tuition upon us when we're retiring.
Would the policy work in remote countryside regions of China? Well, for those who still hold on to the thought that the more children the merrier, they have always had their ways to bypass the policy and have as many children as they please. They either pay the fine or they don't register their children in the hukou system - so they don't "exist" on paper - or they give birth to two children one right after the other and register them as twins.
The number of newborns may increase on paper now that those who might have been "illegal" can now be legally registered in the hukou system.
Of course, there may be people, especially civil servants, who were thinking about a second child but were prevented by the policy. So, the change in the policy would be helping them out. Nevertheless, it seems to me a desperate move to stimulate the economy; and a gamble.