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According to experts, China’s population growth is affected by “fewer babies” and childless households, which pose a risk for the future

At 49, Fang Qin said she was content with life without a child. She has a lot of freedom in how she spends her money and time, and more importantly, her parents don’t push her to have a baby. “DINK – double income, no children – families like mine are nothing new these days,” says the handbag shop owner from Jiaxing in the east Chinese province of Zhejiang. Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform for curated content with explanations, FAQs, analysis and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team. “I am glad that people are gradually changing their attitudes. “Compared to 10 years ago, I now get more envy than confusion when I tell people I’m married but have no child.” Both Fang’s and her husband’s parents live independently; The three couples are part of the growing number of two-person families in the world’s most populous country. According to the last China census, conducted in late 2020, the average number of people living in a Chinese household fell from 3.1 in 2010 to 2.6. In comparison, the average in the early 1980s was almost 4.5 people. Letting multiple generations live under one roof is traditionally seen as a blessing in Chinese culture, but a growing reluctance to have children, an aging population, and the increasing trend of a mobile population with one or both parents separated from their children . Experts say they are starting a large number of smaller families like Fang’s. According to the 2019 United Nations Database of Household Size and Composition, average household sizes have declined worldwide. In the US, census data showed the average family was 3.15 as of 2020, up from 3.7 in the 1960s. The most important factor is that there are fewer babies. People are not ready to raise children. Professor Zhu Qin Professor Zhu Qin from the Center for Population and Development Studies at Fudan University says this is a global trend, but the decline in China has been drastic – half a person has been lost from every household over the past decade. The Chinese government released the numbers of the once-in-a-decade census earlier this month, including average household size, but did not release detailed statistics on how families are actually formed. Noting that solid conclusions can only be drawn when such data are available, Zhu says there can be multiple reasons for the reduction in family size. “The most important factor is that there are fewer babies. People are not ready to raise children for various reasons, ”he says. “Although the government began encouraging all couples to have two children five years ago, rising childcare and education costs and stress from work have dampened the young generation’s enthusiasm for babies,” says Zhu. In China, the number of newborns fell for the fourth year in a row since it ended its infamous one-child policy in 2016. Around 12 million babies were born last year, an 18 percent decrease from the previous year. The proportion of elderly people is now increasing rapidly; Many of them live alone, he says. “Especially when the average life expectancy increases, there are more families with two or only one person in old age, which pushes the average household size down.” The latest census found that over 18 percent of the population is 60 years or older, an increase of 5.4 percentage points from 2010. “In the past, more people lived in extended families, with several generations living together, but now there are more nuclear families . Young people tend to live independently after marriage, ”says Zhu. The third reason is the increasingly mobile nature of the population, says Zhu. When family wage earners leave their homes to find better paying jobs elsewhere, large numbers of children and the elderly are left in smaller towns and villages. This means that a family of five with two looking for work will be split into two and counted as separate households. “When migration is active, the household size usually decreases,” says Zhu. Also, with the 7th census conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is possible that many people were stranded in the places where they were working when the census took place. When the government encouraged people to stay where they are, more migrant workers who should have been considered home with their families would have been counted as a separate household in the city, he adds. Cai Yong, associate professor at the University of North Carolina’s Carolina Population Center at Chapel Hill, says the census shows a combination of changes in family size and changes in living conditions. “For many, choosing not to live in a crowded home means privacy and freedom. The dramatic fall in suicide rates among women in China is a good example, ”he says. In traditional multigenerational households, conflicts between women and their mother-in-law were very common and have been linked to the high suicide rate among women in rural areas, says Cai. Now, with more couples living independently, such conflicts have decreased significantly and the suicide rate among women has fallen by 30 percent over the past three decades. Having a smaller family also means transforming social relationships, says Cai. “Having a DINK family or staying single does not mean that you will lose the social support network. They have something different from what we traditionally understand. “” Kinship is only part of a person’s social relationship. When this part weakens, others need to be filled. For example, those who have no siblings may find similar support from their cousins, ”he explains. The biggest impact of shrinking households could be in poor areas, he adds. While the workforce in these areas flows into the cities, the elderly and children left behind can be neglected. There are also elderly people who live alone in the cities, but those in the city are relatively better off and can solve the caring problems by buying services like hiring a nanny, he says. For Fang, the Zhejiang shopkeeper, living without a child means saving more money for later in life and spending more time traveling and exercising at a young age. “Having a small family can be good or bad for different people,” she says. “One thing is certain, however, that our society should become more diversified rather than all living the same way.” More from the South China Morning Post: China’s Gen Z is “flat” but doing this new job, attitude to life Are you a social and economic threat? Are China’s people a cause for concern? China’s rust belt population has declined over the past decade, exacerbating the regional economic divide. China population: Beijing is facing “tricky” reforms to unleash new growth drivers as the workforce ages. This article has hurt China’s population growth Experts say “fewer babies” and childless households, who pose risks for the future, first appeared in the South China Morning Post. 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