For 2022, China recorded a population decline for the first time in 60 years. Forecasts assume that this trend will continue over the next 30 years. The government is trying to increase the birth rate again with a variety of measures, be it through financial support or other benefits for families.
However, many young Chinese DW spoke to are pessimistic about the future, an attitude that is also reflected in their attitudes towards marriage and family planning. “Young people in China generally feel that the future is bleak and life is tough,” says 25-year-old Emma Li, who lives in Shanghai. “Life becomes even more stressful with children. Many have chosen to become the ‘last generation’ in their families.”
Even the news that China’s population is shrinking for the first time in decades hasn’t changed her mind. “I’ve spoken to a lot of friends about marriage and children, and many of them don’t want to go down the traditional path of family planning,” she affirms. “Many young people in China are very well educated and it is difficult to convince young women that young women should definitely marry for love, live happily and have a harmonious family life.”
What keeps young people from starting a family?
The grueling life in China and the stresses of everyday life also prevent many from starting a family. “Long hours, unsatisfactory jobs and the difficulty of surviving during low-income inflation make it impossible for us to raise children,” says Cynthia Liu, 27, from Beijing. “Because of the strict government censorship of books, films and even video games, we don’t know how to give our children a happy childhood. Our compassion and sense of responsibility have largely persuaded us not to bring new life into this world,” she adds .
In 2021, the Chinese government introduced regulations to limit the time children spend playing online games to three hours a week. China’s Radio, Film and Television Authority also banned cartoons depicting “violence, gore, vulgarity and pornography.”
Yun Zhou is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Michigan in the United States. She tells DW that many women in China value pursuing individualistic goals such as a successful career. “The gender discrimination in the Chinese labor market and the extreme expectations placed on mothers prevent many from getting married or having children,” she explains.
More youth unemployment because of Corona
The lockdowns and increased scrutiny by authorities during the coronavirus pandemic have also had a noticeable impact on Chinese society and how confident people are about the future. “The repeated lockdowns over the past three years have deprived many people of their savings and sense of security,” said Adam Wang, 26, from Tianjin.
“Factories and delivery services are unable to provide even basic services to their workers. At the same time, more and more people are seeking employment with the authorities, while youth unemployment has reached new highs during the pandemic,” he said. The deteriorating economic outlook has meant that more and more young people are finding it difficult to make ends meet. “Many of us just don’t have the capacity to think about getting married or having children because we can’t even afford a decent lifestyle for ourselves.”
The lockdowns that have been imposed on cities across China since 2020 have increased the number of unemployed between the ages of 16 and 24 in the country. In December 2022, that number reached 20 million. According to the Chinese Bureau of Statistics, 19.9 percent of young people were unemployed in July 2022.
How successful are government measures?
The last time China’s population declined was in 1961, the last year of the Great Famine. According to forecasts, India will overtake China as the most populous country in the world by 2023. The UN predicts that China’s population will fall from more than 1.4 billion today to 1.3 billion by 2050 and even below 800 million by 2100.
The Chinese government wants to defuse this demographic time bomb with a series of measures designed to encourage young people to have more children. In some cities, authorities are promising state aid to families with three children, while others are offering home-buying assistance.
However, whether these measures will be enough to convince enough people to start a family remains to be seen. “Wealthy cities like Shenzhen and Jinan promise families with three children up to 20,000 yuan ($3,000) over three years, but I think only families who already want to have multiple children will apply for these grants,” said Cynthia Lui from Beijing. “Women who don’t want more children can easily make larger sums of money in six months. These measures to encourage people to have more children are mostly just empty slogans,” she adds.
Emma Li, from Shanghai, says many of her unmarried friends and family members feel that the support the government is offering is not enough to encourage women to choose to have children. “Even when it comes to women who want more children, it’s usually not government action that matters,” she says. “I believe the birth rate in China will continue to fall, but the quality of life for young people in China will improve in the near future because they will have more money to spend on themselves.”
Adapted from the English by Phoenix Hanzo.