Zhang Lijia

China’s new three-child policy has received a lackluster reception among its population. Author Zhang Lijia offers a few tips for the government to make its policy attractive for women: offer financial incentives, significantly expand its childcare capacity, and promote women-friendly policies and equality, she writes in the South China Morning Post.

Zhang Lijia:

Why aren’t young people keen on having children these days? First, living costs – and child-rearing costs – are high. Although the state offers nine years of compulsory education, urban parents are all vying to sign up their children for extra lessons and extracurricular activities, from English to piano.

The availability of childcare services in China is another headache. Young couples often have to rely on their parents or hire child minders, which only adds to the cost.
Furthermore, many educated professional women hesitate to have children due to the prevalence of sexual discrimination in the job marketplace.

Some companies refuse to hire women of child-bearing age or sack them if they become pregnant. I have heard stories of women being required to promise not to have children as a precondition for employment.

To deal with the issue, Chinese government agencies even issued a notice in 2019, forbidding prospective employers from asking female job candidates whether they were married or have children. While well intentioned, such a move was weak, to say the least.

For the women who have worked their way up to managerial positions, there is the worry that motherhood may send them back down the career ladder. The unfriendly environment for working mothers has deterred many women from having babies…

Evidence suggests that equality is good for fertility. Look at Europe as an example. France and Scandinavia have higher birth rates than southern European countries such as Italy, Spain and Portugal, which have less gender equality and more rigid family norms, and where new mothers are expected to stay at home.

 In contrast, France and the Nordic countries have a relaxed attitude to family norms. Their governments offer equal support to families that come in different forms: married couples, unwed couples, same-sex couples and single parents.

The Chinese government should allow single women to have children, should they wish, and grant equal rights to their children.

The current fertility rate in China is 1.3, while last year, Chinese women on average were willing to have 1.8 children, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. So, if China plays its cards right, there should be room for growth.

More in the South China Morning Post.

Zhang Lijia is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need her at your (online) meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.

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