The cost of raising a child in urban China has deterred many would-be parents, and China’s fertility rate has fallen to just 1.3 children per woman, despite Beijing’s scrapping of the one-child policy in 2016.
On Monday, the Chinese government allowed married couples to have up to three children, in a major shift from the limit of two after recent data showed a dramatic decline in births in the world’s most populous country.
Below are some of the costs of raising a child in China’s big cities.
MATERNAL COSTS: The costs of giving birth in public hospitals in China, including prenatal tests and deliveries, are usually covered by state insurance, but resources are tight at public hospitals and more Chinese women are turning to private clinics, which can charge more than 100,000 yuan ($15,700).
Well-off families typically hire an in-house nursemaid, or yuesao, to look after the mother and baby in the first month, at about 15,000 yuan. As incomes rise in China, new mothers are also flocking to expensive postpartum centres that offer professional care and services. One such facility in Beijing’s Wangfujing district costs from 150,000 to 350,000 yuan per month.
HOUSING AND EDUCATION: After feeding their children milk formula imported from Australia and New Zealand and sending them to early childhood education centres, well-off parents seek apartments in districts with good schools such as Beijing’s Haidian, where housing costs an average of over 90,000 yuan per square meter, on par with median prices in Manhattan.
Those not eligible for public schools because they lack a hukou, or residency permit, must attend private schools, which cost from 40,000 to 250,000 yuan per year.
Anxious parents, most of them investing in their only child, sign kids up for private tutoring and to extracurriculars such as piano, tennis or chess classes.
Competition is so fierce that a popular term in parenting circles – jiwa, or “chicken baby” – refers to parents pumping energy boosting “chicken blood” into their kids by loading them up with extracurricular classes.
In order to ease pressure on children and boost birth rates by lowering family education costs, China has launched a clampdown on the country’s booming private tutoring industry.
According to a 2019 Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences report, an average family living in Shanghai’s upscale Jingan District spends almost 840,000 yuan per child from birth through junior high school, which typically ends at age 15, including 510,000 yuan on education alone.
Low-income families in Shanghai’s Jingan and Minhang districts, which have annual incomes under 50,000 yuan, spend over 70 percent of earnings on the child, the report said.
‘LYING DOWN’: High costs and the pressures of having grown up as only children, as well as the expectation that they will support their parents, have made many young people reluctant to have kids of their own.
New buzzwords capturing young people’s outlook often crop up on social media, including the recent “tang ping”, or “lying down”, which reflects disillusionment with a society beset by “involution”, another catchphrase referring to the state of being stuck in meaningless competition.
That came after the rise of “sang” culture, which revels in often-ironic defeatism, and “Buddhist youth”, which refers to young people’s laissez-faire attitude to life.
LOWERING THE COST: Beijing allowed couples in 2016 a two-child limit to try and stave off risks to its economy from a rapidly aging population. But that failed to result in a sustained surge in births given the high cost of raising children.
The new policy change will come with “supportive measures, which will be conducive to improving our country’s population structure, fulfilling the country’s strategy of actively coping with an ageing population”, the official Xinhua news agency said following a politburo meeting chaired by President Xi Jinping.
Among those measures, China will lower educational costs for families, step up tax and housing support, guarantee the legal interests of working women and clamp down on “sky-high” dowries, it said, without giving specifics. It would also look to educate young people “on marriage and love”.
($1 = 6.3667 yuan)