Young, middle class and childless: Behind China's declining birth rates(2)

2019-01-31 08:52:29CGTN Editor : Gu Liping ECNS App Download

Living for yourself?

In a country where family lineage carries cultural significance, the delaying of marriage and parenthood – or abandoning them – is bound to lead to friction between generations.

Mr. Jin is one of those more traditional-minded older Chinese who have expressed dismay at the burgeoning individualism of millennials. The 60-year-old charity worker believes China's family planning policies had been a miscalculation of the situation, but insists that millennials' individualistic attitude – a by-product of Western consumerism – is the real cause behind China's demographic decline.  

"Today's 20- and 30-somethings only think for themselves," Mr. Jin said. "Their attitudes toward family is not like previous generations." He added that the costs of living are not a concern for people who wish to have children.

"Now they think they can enjoy a Westernized lifestyle while being doted on as the only child by their parents," Mr. Jin said of those without children, "but when they are old and alone, with no siblings or children, they are going to regret it."

Traditionally, it was important for Chinese families to have many children, especially sons, who will care for their parents in old age. Now with improved social security, depending on family ties for support is becoming a thing of the past. But culturally ingrained ideas are not going away anytime soon.

"It's in Chinese culture for three or four generations of a family to be together under one roof. That's what makes us happy spiritually," Mr. Jin said.

Official attempts to discourage the single and childless lifestyle have been floated, and backfired spectacularly. Last year, a newspaper article proposing a "birth fund" went viral for all the wrong reasons, with netizens nationwide responding to the suggestion with shock and ridicule. Understood to be a punitive measure against single and childless people, the controversial proposal provoked soul searching and discussions about the values of individual lives.

On Zhihu, a Quora-like Chinese site, a post in reply to the question "what do people without children think?" concludes: "It's not because we are irresponsible. On the contrary, we are cautious because we are in awe of human life. We want to be responsible for our own and other people's lives. It's out of love, not selfishness." 

The post received more than 6,800 upvotes from other users.

Professor Lu believes the lack of will to procreate is the inevitable result of economic and social developments, and how to better adapt to these new realities is what people should think about.

"The urbanization and modernization process in China will naturally bring down the birth rates," Lu said. "People's thinking needs to change, because the aging society is a future and a reality we must prepare for. That means improving supporting facilities and services."

Lu also noted that keeping the birth rates above the replacement level is vital for a healthy society.   

It is not hopeless. Some young Chinese, like 24-year-old government employee Felipe, are not planning on straying from the beaten path.

"I have discussed it with my family. We agreed that I will get married and have kids when I'm around 30," said Felipe, who is now single and says he's focusing on work.

"I think childless couples are rare. From what I can see, most people still want a traditional family," he said.

But he will have children only if circumstances allow it, Felipe said, referring to his and his partner's economic and employment situation.

When asked what if his future wife was to choose her career over childrearing, Felipe said he hoped things would work out.

"It's better to have kids. I don't mind if it has to wait," he said.

(Pseudonyms were used at the request of some of those interviewed.)

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