It’s been two years since China, desperate to stop sagging birth rates, switched to the two-child policy.
The People’s Republic of Childlessness
But instead of a baby boom, there’s been a baby bust. Despite lifted restrictions, birth rates actually fell by 3.5% in 2017.
This comes as surprise to no one, least of all women. The methods China’s birth planners used to enact the one-child policy simply don’t work in reverse.
Chivvying women – especially college-educated women – to reproduce simply isn’t as easy as forcing farm women to abort.
How do you get educated women in China to have more babies?
Here are some ideas: how about actively encouraging husbands to take on more childcare responsibilities?
How about making rules so that women in China make more than 67 cents for every dollar men make?
Or creating safe workplaces so that women aren’t being groped so absurdly often? (83% for women journalists, according to this sexual harassment survey)
What if China’s campuses banned lecherous lecturers, instead of banning plastic surgery, as this college did?
Instead of courses teaching men to be suave “pick-up artists,” how about courses training them to nurture and support women?
What if Chinese women could openly talk about the #MeToo movement, instead of being forced to circumvent Internet censors by making oblique references to rice rabbits – “MiTu”?
These are not mere feminist ravings. Data shows societies with higher gender equity – meaning societies where women and men are more fairly treated – have higher fertility rates.
Which is why countries like Norway and Sweden ranked first and second on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report, boast total fertility rates of 1.93 and 1.75 respectively – among the highest of developed nations.
China, at a dismal 100th place, has a total fertility rate of 1.57.
Some – not all – of China’s demographic woes can be laid at the foot of the one-child policy: the 30-plus years of rules restricting China’s family size.
It has now created a population that has far too many bachelors (30 million by 2030) and far more retirees than its working population can comfortably support.
This was the primary reason for easing things in 2015. Down the road, China could move to a three-child policy or drop all restrictions.
But turning on the baby switch – when it has been so firmly set in ‘off’ mode for so long – involves a radical rethink. China’s birth planners need to swap sticks for carrots.
They also need to unravel the patriarchal structure that anchored Chinese society long before the one-child policy was conceived.
So far, it doesn’t look promising. Instead of expanding efforts to encourage men to play a more equitable role, China’s social planners have mostly opted to cajole, shame or scare people into marriage by stigmatizing single women as “leftovers.”
State-backed “woman morality” workshops even endorse decidedly retro views on female submission. (For example: “A woman’s best dowry is her virginity.”)
Many experts suspected the switch to a two-child policy would hurt, not help women. To date, that appears to be true.
Complaints about workplace discrimination have risen. According to recruitment site Zhaopin.com, 33% of respondents had their pay cut after giving birth. 36% were demoted.
Last month, a study in the Chinese Sociological Review showed women with less marital power – usually, those with less education and less income than their spouses – are more likely to be pressured into having a second child, even if they don’t want to.
Mao famously said China’s women hold up half the sky. Turns out, they’ve been holding up much, much more. Time to balance things out.