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Nation moves to avert demographic time bomb
Last Updated: 2018-02-08 08:07 | China Daily
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The government is looking to raise the number of births

Yang Dan is envious every time she hears that a woman she knows is having a second child. However, the mother of a 5-year-old boy in Panjin, Liaoning province, is adamant that she will not extend her family; at least not for a few more years.

"I think of my old age sometimes. If I were to have a second child, my husband and I would have two children to take care of us in turn when we are too sick or old to cope. Hopefully, they would not feel too burdened," the 33-year-old said. "But the pressure of having a second child is too huge for us to bear at the moment."

Many women are echoing Yang's opinion. The number of births is declining in China, and there were approximately 17.23 million last year, about 630,000 fewer than in 2016, according to statistics recently released by the National Bureau of Statistics.

In 2016, the central government relaxed the family planning policy, which restricted most couples to one child, allowing all families to have two children, while some are allowed to have more. Moreover, a range of other measures have been implemented to encourage more births.

There is growing concern that the country may experience a demographic time bomb, because in the decades to come the number of young people is likely to fall below the number required to maintain an optimum level of employment. That has led some experts to question whether the second-child policy has been effective.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, people age 60 and older accounted for 17.3 percent of the population last year, compared with 16.7 percent in 2016.

If the current population level is to be maintained, each woman has to give birth to an average number of babies.

The number, or "replacement rate", is 2.1 in developed countries, but in less-developed countries it is 2.3, because of higher death rates for both children and adults.

Last year, the total fertility rate in China was 1.615, which was far lower than the required replacement rate of 2.3.

The number fell by 0.059 from the 2016 level, according to Liu Houlian, a researcher at the China Population and Development Research Center, who noted that the decline simply reflected a short-term fluctuation.

So, why are fewer couples opting to extend their families?

Many cite the financial pressure that results from having children, the inescapable interruption to career development and a decline in traditional beliefs.

On Monday, Yang Wenzhuang, chief of grassroots family planning supervision at the National Health and Family Planning Commission, quoted the results of a recent survey conducted on the commission's behalf by a third party.

He said the survey indicated that more than 82 percent of couples age 35 and younger gave the increased financial burden as the main reason for not having a second child. Another major reason was that couples have no time to take care of an extra child, according to Yang.

Housing, tuition

"For couples in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, housing is also a big concern," he said.

"Having a second child means they have to move to a bigger house, but property prices are extremely high now."

Yang Dan, who lives in Panjin, Liaoning province, works as an assistant manager at an agricultural research institute. Her husband is a local government official.

The couple spends about 4,000 yuan ($636) a month on their 5-year-old son, including kindergarten fees and four extracurricular classes-drawing, dancing, handicraft and an intelligence-development class.

The outlay accounts for almost one-third of their combined monthly salaries of more than 12,000 yuan.

"In the past, having one more child didn't raise the family's expenditure too much, but things are different nowadays because you have to provide the best possible conditions for your child," Yang Dan said.

The couple doesn't employ a nanny, but that would be essential if they decided to have a second child.

The only other option would be for Yang Dan to quit her job and become a full-time mother. Either way, the cost would be high.

"Although Panjin is not a big city, finding a nanny would not be easy. One of my friends told me she spends more than 10,000 yuan a month on her daughter and the family nanny," she said.

Meanwhile Liu Xu, who works for a State-owned enterprise in Beijing, has also rejected the idea of having a second child.

"There is no room in our house for another kid, and property prices in the capital mean we don't have enough money to buy a bigger house," he said.

Liu has a 5-year-old boy and his family of three lives in a one-bedroom apartment.

He has enrolled the boy in three classes outside of school-English, painting and mathematics-which costs about 60,000 yuan a year, more than 30 percent of his annual income, he said.

"Many parents I know, people who are not rich, have enrolled their child in at least one expensive class," he said.

However having a child is expensive even before the parents get the newborn home.

Yang Dan's son was born prematurely at a hospital in Shenyang, the provincial capital, and the procedure cost the couple more than 130,000 yuan.

She said she would stay at a hospital in Shenyang again if she had a second child because establishments in the city have better facilities and more-skillful doctors.

Although it is difficult to find a bed in a top public hospital in Shenyang, it's easy to find one in a high-end private hospital, but the cost would be high, she added.

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