‘The last generation’: Chinese youth vowing not to have children | Porcelain

Talk to any young women in urban areas. Porcelain about the prospects of having children and most likely they are not enthusiastic.

“It costs too much to give children a decent life. What they teach in school is propaganda, so I would like to send them to an international school or abroad. But I can’t afford that,” said Kongkong, a 26-year-old researcher who swears she won’t have children.

This week, the Chinese government announced that the country has entered an “era of negative population growth”after figures showed a historic drop in the number of people for the first time since the great famine between 1958 and 1961. The population fell by 850,000 to 1.41 billion people in 2022, according to the National Statistics Office.

But unlike the famine, whose effects were temporary, scholars say this marks the beginning of a long period of population decline.

Alarmed by the country’s declining total fertility rate, Chinese demographers campaigned to eliminate the one child policy for more than a decade, before the government finally ended it in 2015. But by then, it was too late to reverse the trend.

Since the 1990s, China’s total fertility rate (the average number of children born to a woman in her lifetime) has fallen below the replacement level of 2.1. The figure was 1.30 in 2020 and fell to 1.15 in 2021.

Fearing the adverse effects of an aging population coupled with a shortage of people of working age, the Chinese government allowed couples to have two children in 2015 and further lowered the birth limit to three in 2021.

For years, studies have found that the rising costs of raising children and the lack of social benefits are the main reasons behind China’s low fertility rate. In recent years, the government has begun offering incentives such as tax breaks, childcare subsidies, and longer parental leave, while also discouraging abortions. One academic even controversially suggested that social welfare and pensions should be linked to the number of children people have. But these measures have failed to spark a baby boom.

India is expected to overtake China as the most populous country this year

The gloomy outlook has been compounded by widespread pessimism sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

Frustrated by increasingly ironclad government policies during the Covid lockdowns, Chinese youth have adopted a listless “lying flat” philosophy, which encourages rejection of high-pressure jobs. In their 20s and 30s, many resist doing what is expected of them and instead settle for a life of low desire or move abroad. Having children is the last thing on their minds. A online survey last year of more than 20,000 people, mostly urban women between the ages of 18 and 25, found that two-thirds have a “low birth desire.”

“The Last Generation”

Last year, a video went viral in China showing a young man who refused to be taken to a quarantine camp and was warned by police that his punishment would affect his family for three generations. He replied coldly: “We are the last generation, thank you.”

The phrase became a popular meme online and the hashtag #thelastgeneration generated millions of comments before it was censored. Many said the abuse of rights under the draconian Covid policies had discouraged them from having children.

“In this country, loving your child is never letting him be born in the first place,” read one comment.

“This resonated deeply with me… I bought a T-shirt that had ‘We are the last generation’ written on it. I cannot bring a child into this world to let it suffer,” Kongkong said.

Eunice, a 34-year-old English tutor, said: “I heard that some hospitals refused to treat children who could not test negative… The pandemic caused a strong feeling of uncertainty. Having children is not something I’m considering right now.”

Wang Feng, a sociology professor at the University of California, Irvine, said the population decline had started nearly a decade earlier than anticipated by the United Nations. As recently as 2019, the UN projected that China’s population would peak in 2031-32.

Wang said the population decline could be attributed to the one-child policy that began three and a half decades ago, which resulted in fewer women of childbearing age, people delaying or abandoning marriage, and fewer births within marriage.

But the pandemic has made the situation worse.

“The last two could be exacerbated by the three years of the Covid pandemic, which brought a lot of uncertainty and pessimism among young people,” he said.

growing discontent

Experts say that while the population decline will not immediately affect China’s economy, as the total labor force remains huge, above 790 million, it reveals just how unsustainable China’s growth model is.

Wu Qiang, a political analyst in Beijing who previously taught at Tsinghua University, said growing youth discontent with the authoritarian regime and reluctance to have children had demonstrated the “irreconcilable conflict” with the country’s goal of economic growth. . These problems, along with worker protests and labor shortages, are leading to the “bankruptcy of the Chinese model,” which relied on cheap and abundant labor.

“This growth model is unsustainable,” he said.

Chien-Chung Wu, an associate professor at Taipei University of Maritime Technology, said the population decline would eventually have a big impact on China’s economy. He believes that the shrinking workforce and consumer market would cause China to lose its edge and cause foreign companies to turn to other Asian countries.

While Wang doesn’t expect the economic impact to be imminent, he believes the population decline is a wake-up call to reform the inadequate health care system and hukou household registration system, which restricts the movement of people, including by preventing children from rural areas from reuniting with their parents who work in cities.

Robin Maynard, CEO of the UK-based company Population Matters, however, said a smaller Chinese population should be celebrated for helping stem the climate crisis and urged China to use an older workforce rather than rely on birthrates.

Xiaoqian Zhu contributed research for this article.

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