2022-08-11 18:25


Why More Chinese Women Give up on Having Babies After 0 COVID?

Why More Chinese Women Give Up on Having Babies After 0 COVID?

Studies have shown that pandemics and economic uncertainty historically weigh on birth rates around the world.

But, particular to China, its uncompromising "zero-COVID" policy of promptly stamping out any outbreaks may have caused profound damage on their desire to have children, demographers say.

China, which imposed a one-child policy from 1980 to 2015, has officially acknowledged it is on the brink of a demographic downturn.

Over the past year or so, authorities have introduced measures such as tax deductions, longer maternity leave, enhanced medical insurance, housing subsidies, extra money for a third child and a crackdown on expensive private tutoring. 

Still, the desire for Chinese women to have children is the lowest in the world, a survey published in February by think-tank YuWa Population Research showed.

Demographers say measures taken so far are not enough. They cite high education costs, low wages and notoriously long working hours as issues that still need to be addressed, along with COVID policies and economic growth concerns.

A good life?

According to a U.N. China report, the pandemic had a long-term impact on first births, with women citing financial insecurity, unsubstantiated worries about COVID vaccines affecting foetuses, along with difficulties in carrying a pregnancy and taking care of an infant under heavy restrictions.

"Couples that may have been thinking about having a child in the next year, definitely postponed those. Couples that really weren't sure, have postponed indefinitely," said Justine Coulson, the U.N. Population Fund Representative to China.

Demographers say people's feelings of losing control over their lives from events like those can have major consequences on parenthood goals.

"Chinas zero-COVID policy has led to a zero economy, zero marriages, zero fertility." said Chinese demographer Yi Fuxian.

China's National Health Commission and its Family Planning Commission did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Gender inequality

A key root cause of low birth rates, according to Peter McDonald, professor of demography at University of Melbourne, is gender inequality, where China is ranked 102nd out of 146 countries by the World Economic Forum.

Jiahui Wu, a 25-year-old financial analyst, said society's standards for a good mother were strict.

"It seems much easier to be a good father," she said. "I prefer to have a good career."

Bad signs

A July United Nations report predicts China's population of 1.4 billion may start to decline as early as next year, when India will overtake it as the worlds most populous country.

U.N. experts now see China's population shrinking by 109 million by 2050, more than triple the decline of their previous forecast in 2019.

New births are set to fall to record lows this year, demographers say, dropping below 10 million from last year's 10.6 million babies - which were already 11.5% lower than in 2020.

Official 2022 population data is not expected until early next year, but some places in China have published worrying statistics in recent weeks.

Screening for birth defects - a reliable proxy for birthrates - in China's third most populous province Henan fell 9.5% year-on-year in the first six months

Cities elsewhere reported double-digit drops in new birth certificates. Jiaozhou, a city of 1 million in Shandong province, saw a 26% drop in the first six months. Hukou, in Jiangxi province, saw a 42% dive.

None of those figures reflect the impact lockdowns such as those in Shanghai and elsewhere had earlier this year.

But demographers say they do offer a glimpse into how COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 and 2021 affected births and expect 2022 to be worse.

Demographer Yi collated data on infants tuberculosis vaccines, marriage registrations and searches for maternity and baby products on Baidu, Chinas main search engine. He estimates COVID will result in 1 million fewer births in 2021 and 2022 combined, and 2023 could be even worse.

Source: Reuters

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