December 9, 2022

China Delivers Three-Child Policy, but It’s Too Late for Many


Li Fanfang,

a 33-year-old former government worker in Hangzhou, was fired by her employer in December for having a third child, she went to court.

That was after an arbitrage board said she wasn’t covered by protections for new mothers because she had violated China’s birth policies. Her case was well publicized, but she was hesitant to use her full name in media interviews for fear of drawing online criticism for breaking the rules.

All along, she didn’t feel she did anything wrong. Now, China’s demographics has put Beijing on her side. On Monday came the announcement that all Chinese couples will be allowed to have three children.

“I’m very excited,” Ms. Li said. Births that Chinese authorities deem “excessive,” have exposed parents to fines and other punishments. Ms. Li, who is awaiting a court ruling, said she wants to see China become a birth-friendly society. “No baby is excessive.”

In an online support group of mothers with more than two children, Ms. Li and other mothers shared virtual “red-envelope” gifts to celebrate the announcement Monday, which was accompanied by pledges to make raising children less expensive.

But families who want big broods are vanishingly rare in today’s China. The one-child policy’s official implementation in 1980 changed the mind-set over the more than three decades it was in effect and made single-child families the norm. In recent years, China has eased its birth restrictions gradually; starting in 2016, all couples could have two children. Nonetheless, births have dropped for four straight years.

‘I’ve dreamed about this day for a long time. When it finally comes, it’s too late for me.’

— Xu Li, an elementary school teacher in Shandong province

What China now allows is something some Chinese demographers have wanted for decades. But they say the easing would have had a much bigger impact a couple of decades ago, when there were more women of childbearing age and many parents ached to have more children.

“With small family sizes now well ingrained into the fabric of Chinese society, there is little that policy makers can do to turn back the clock,” Julian Evans-Pritchard, an economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a report Monday.


Xu Li,

an elementary school teacher in Shandong province, having a third child appealed to her for years and she had hoped the government would ease the restriction.

“I’ve dreamed about this day for a long time. When it finally comes, it’s too late for me,” said Ms. Xu, who is now 45.

What China now allows is increasingly out of step with the trend of young women postponing or forgoing marriage and children.

“Getting married and having children is not the only path for women anymore. We have more options and can live our lives in many ways,” says

Luo Dan,

38, who lives with several cats and her boyfriend in Beijing.

China’s one-child policy was implemented in 1980 and, over more than three decades, it changed people’s mind-set. Single-child families became the norm, despite the easing of birth restrictions in recent years.


kim kyung-hoon/Reuters

Li Moyu,

44, a former executive at a tech company, said she and her husband, both graduates of elite Chinese universities, gave priority to their careers, and might not have had children if their parents hadn’t nagged them for grandchildren and called them selfish. In her late 30s, Ms. Li had a son, who is now in first grade.

“Until now, we still haven’t found a good reason to have a second child,” said Ms. Li, now an editor at a PR firm in Beijing. Her current pay is much lower than her previous job, but she needs the flexible working hours to take care of her son.

To be sure, many families have taken the opportunity to have a second child. More than half of newborns between 2016 and 2019 were second children, official data shows. But many women, especially those in large cities, find the prospect too daunting.

The trend of declining births across China has been well documented. Nonetheless, the publication of results from China’s once-a-decade census in May was still a wake-up call.

Huang Wenzheng,

a researcher with the Center for China and Globalization think tank in Beijing, said the reluctance among young people to start a family is even worse than he had thought. “I don’t think people realize how quickly young people’s mind-set have changed,” he said.

Following the announcement of the eased limits Monday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported that the number of marriage registrations in 2020 was 40% lower compared with 2013. Xinhua, which attributed the data to the National Health Commission, said Chinese people born after 1990 say they want to have 1.66 children on average, down 10% from the generation born after 1980.

The number of women who are aged 20 to 34 years old dropped by nearly 3.7 million in 2020 from a year earlier, Xinhua said.

The just-released census data shows that the most severe demographic imbalances are in China’s northeast rust-belt region, which lost more than 11 million people over the past decade. Heilongjiang, the country’s northernmost province, lost nearly 17% of its population between 2010 and 2020, and of those left, 23% were aged 60 years or older. Those under 14 account for just 10%.

In one online discussion group, a mother recounted how she had visited her hometown in Heilongjiang with her three children, a sight so rare there that she was asked by neighbors if she had given birth overseas, where China’s birth restrictions don’t apply.

Other parts of China that were extra zealous about enforcing family-planning rules are now also in deep trouble.

Rudong county, in Jiangsu province, was one of the first local governments to implement the one-child policy. Now, with almost 40% of the province’s population of 880,000 aged 60 or older, and nearly 30% aged 65 or older, it is struggling.

Faced with a shortage of children, several high schools have stopped enrolling new students. Amid a surging demand for nursing homes, the local government is looking for private investors to help some 7,000 elderly residents who cannot take care of themselves.

China’s Demographic Difficulties

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Related Posts

If Economy Meets Expectations, Time to Talk Taper Approaching

May 26, 2021

May 26, 2021

The Federal Reserve’s point man on financial regulation, Randal Quarles, said Wednesday that if the U.S. economy turns in the...

U.S. Housing Market Booms, but Small Contractors Miss Out

June 26, 2021

June 26, 2021

Some small contractors say they are missing out on the U.S. housing boom as shortages of workers and supplies in...

American Airlines Cancellations: What to Do if Your Flight Was Canceled

June 21, 2021

June 21, 2021

When American Airlines announced cancellations of some flights to avoid potentially straining its operations, it sent some fliers into a...

Business Travel Is Coming Back

June 1, 2021

June 1, 2021

Fresh signs are emerging that business travelers won’t be grounded much longer. Some companies that learned to do without travel...

Democrats Wrestle Over Cost, Breadth of Antipoverty Plan

July 1, 2021

July 1, 2021

WASHINGTON—Democrats have no shortage of ideas about what they hope to include in their next big legislative package—subsidized child care,...

Boeing and Airbus Meet New Competition: Their Own Used Planes

June 14, 2021

June 14, 2021

It is hard to compete against your own products. Vaccination campaigns are finally giving airlines the visibility they need to...

Rethinking Pay and Benefits in a Hybrid Workplace

June 13, 2021

June 13, 2021

Imagine this workplace scenario: As the pandemic recedes, employees in Company X are given the option of returning to the...

Bill Ackman Makes His Case for Music

June 23, 2021

June 23, 2021

Hedge-fund billionaire William Ackman says music comes just under food and water in the hierarchy of needs, but music is...

Fed’s Bostic Says Bond Buying Drawdown Near, Sees Rate Rise in Late 2022

June 23, 2021

June 23, 2021

Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Raphael Bostic said Wednesday he has moved forward his expectations for a central bank...

Amazon Faced 75,000 Arbitration Demands. Now It Says: Fine, Sue Us

June 1, 2021

June 1, 2021

Companies have spent more than a decade forcing employees and customers to resolve disputes outside the traditional court system, using...

GameStop’s Chief Operating Officer Departs

October 29, 2021

October 29, 2021

GameStop Corp.’s chief operating officer, Jenna Owens, has left the company, less than a year after joining. GameStop didn’t give...

Winning Ticket to Join Jeff Bezos in Space Costs Nearly $30 Million in Blue Origin Auction

June 12, 2021

June 12, 2021

A ticket to go into space next month with Jeff Bezos went for almost $30 million, including the commission, in...

Supply Crunch Risks Extending Into 2022, Stoking Inflation

June 20, 2021

June 20, 2021

Supply constraints that have challenged businesses and caused shortages of everything from semiconductors to sweatpants are deepening, adding to pressure...

Apple Prepares Office Staff for Hybrid Workweek

June 3, 2021

June 3, 2021

Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook, in an email to staff, notified office employees of the company’s back-to-office plans. Photo: brooks...

Car Sales Continue Hot Streak but Market Shows Signs of Cooling

July 1, 2021

July 1, 2021

U.S. car sales continued at a blistering pace in the second quarter, but show some signs of slowing in June...