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For Cash-Strapped Chinese Parents, Two Babies Are Too Many

Call it reproduction with Chinese capitalist characteristics. On Nov. 15, authorities announced that the country’s one-child policy would be loosened, adding couples in which one spouse is an only child to the list of families allowed to have two children. Experts hope the new measure will increase China’s birth rate — which at 1.5 per ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Call it reproduction with Chinese capitalist characteristics. On Nov. 15, authorities announced that the country's one-child policy would be loosened, adding couples in which one spouse is an only child to the list of families allowed to have two children. Experts hope the new measure will increase China's birth rate -- which at 1.5 per woman lies below replacement level -- and ameliorate labor shortages caused by an aging population.

But according to a Nov. 18 survey of 5,000 web users conducted on Sina Weibo, a surprisingly large portion of Chinese think one is plenty: 52 percent of respondents said the "economic pressure" of a second child would be too much. Chinese wages are expected to rise 8.4 percent in 2013, yet many still feel constrained. "In China, when you get married you have to take care of both partners' parents," explained one Weibo user. "And don't forget the mortgage. Add another child to that and the pressure is enormous." (The Weibo findings are consistent with another online survey, conducted on Nov. 19, in which 80 percent of respondents eschewing a second child cited financial concerns.) 

Call it reproduction with Chinese capitalist characteristics. On Nov. 15, authorities announced that the country’s one-child policy would be loosened, adding couples in which one spouse is an only child to the list of families allowed to have two children. Experts hope the new measure will increase China’s birth rate — which at 1.5 per woman lies below replacement level — and ameliorate labor shortages caused by an aging population.

But according to a Nov. 18 survey of 5,000 web users conducted on Sina Weibo, a surprisingly large portion of Chinese think one is plenty: 52 percent of respondents said the "economic pressure" of a second child would be too much. Chinese wages are expected to rise 8.4 percent in 2013, yet many still feel constrained. "In China, when you get married you have to take care of both partners’ parents," explained one Weibo user. "And don’t forget the mortgage. Add another child to that and the pressure is enormous." (The Weibo findings are consistent with another online survey, conducted on Nov. 19, in which 80 percent of respondents eschewing a second child cited financial concerns.) 

The 48 percent who voted in favor of larger families felt that siblings inspire humility. Many Chinese complain the one-child policy has given rise to a generation of self-centered, only children, known as "little emperors." 

Although a poll of self-selected netizens may not reliably reflect the attitudes of China’s masses, a survey released in October by the Family Planning Commission, the organ responsible for implementing the one-child policy, found that only 50 to 60 percent of couples affected by the upcoming policy reform wanted a second child (though it didn’t specify why).

Online, at least, financial concerns carry the day. One Weibo user argued the reforms will help the rich more than the poor. "If you have money, you can have 10 kids," she wrote. "But if you’re broke, even two children is too many."

Liz Carter is assistant editor at Foreign Policy's Tea Leaf Nation. She lived for several years in Beijing, China, where she wrote and translated three Chinese-English textbooks and studied contemporary Chinese literature at Peking University. Since returning to the United States, she has co-authored a book on subversive linguistic trends on the Chinese Internet and been interviewed about developments in China by the Christian Science Monitor, Forbes, the Washington Post's WorldViews, and PRI's The World. Twitter: @withoutdoing

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