Why Chinese don’t want more children
March 10th, 2014
10:45 AM ET

Why Chinese don’t want more children

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By Global Public Square staff

Much has been made of how China recently eased restrictions on having children. Under the old rules, if a couple wanted to have a second child, both husband and wife needed to be the only offspring of their parents.

Under the new rules, a second child could be allowed if just one of its potential parents was an only-child. The change impacts about 20 million Chinese. You'd imagine after decades of restrictions, many of them would jump at the chance to have a second child, right?


An article in The New York Times recently reports that as many as half of the families impacted by the new rules are balking at the idea of a second child. Parents quoted in the article say that children simply cost too much.

Why is this attitude surprising? And what went wrong?

It's simple: China is getting richer…and its women are getting more educated. According to the CIA, the five countries with the highest birth rates in the world include the likes of Niger, Mali, and Uganda. There's a clear correlation here: these countries have some of the lowest per capita incomes in the world – the average income in Niger is just $800 a year.

Now let's flip the numbers. The five countries with the lowest birth rates in the world include Monaco, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan. Now look at the average incomes. Monaco? $70,700! Singapore? $61,400. China clearly aspires to be in Monaco and Singapore's company…not Niger and Mali.

In addition to the wealth effect, studies show that the more educated women become, the less likely they are to have more children. This has happened across the world, in Europe and even in traditional Asian societies like South Korea.

China is the great historic anomaly. China's citizens have gotten as old as Europeans, well before they've reached European levels of wealth or education. And while China is not as rich as South Korea or Singapore, it has high and ever-increasing female literacy – the rate is now nearly 93 percent. So getting them to have more kids now might not be that easy.

Why is China an anomaly? Well, it's the only country that could pull off a central edict like the one-child policy. It was an unprecedented experiment in population control. The problem is that now China really needs young people – by 2050, about a third of Chinese will be over the age of 60.

What can Beijing do? Well, it is probably looking at experiments in the Western world.

Consider France, which in the 1990s realized it needed to boost fertility rates. The central government put in place a program of incentives including tax breaks for parents, subsidized housing, and access to child care. According to the Wall Street Journal, France spends 4 percent of its GDP on these programs – about twice as much as other rich countries.

What happened? France's fertility rate over the last 20 years rose considerably, from an average of 1.65 children per woman in 1994, to two children per woman last year. That's a 20 percent jump.

If China wants its people to have more children, it may have to do a lot more than minor relaxations of the one-child policy. It might have to go in for a French solution.

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Topics: China • What in the World?

soundoff (120 Responses)
  1. teakiller

    High fertility rates = low per capita income. The Chinese are smarter than we are. One of the largest obstacles to solving our poverty problem is high birth rates. Even lower living standards for the shrinking middle class would be less of a problem if people would have fewer children.

    March 10, 2014 at 6:01 pm | Reply
    • Rich

      Agree totally. If one were to look at the sum total of the world's problems – then would not be problems – but – rather – symptoms of Over Population. Why are we running out of water – over population. Why do we have air pollution – over population. Why are we faced with mass extinction of all of the species on the planet – over population. China is much smarter than we are. If we were to take am impassioned look at "Anti Birth Control Folks" – they would be overwhelmingly Conservative Republicans – who have been bought by – "The more people we have – the closer we come to heaven" – Conservative Christians. China has it right. We will overpopulate ourselves into the sixth extinction.

      March 10, 2014 at 6:42 pm | Reply
      • Kevin

        We're in agreement: your parents would have been better off if you were never born.

        March 10, 2014 at 10:28 pm |
      • jesuguru

        Overpopulation is primarily happening in third-world countries, not in "conservative Christian" US (population stable), as much as you'd instinctively like to blame them.

        March 11, 2014 at 12:48 am |
      • Poltergistf

        How did we become extinct the other 5 times?

        March 11, 2014 at 9:09 am |
      • Brad Johnson

        According to the World Bank, the US currently has a 1.88 birth rate (births per woman). The historical 'replacement rate' (birth rate to sustain population organically) is 2.1. If not for immigration, our population would actually be in decline. Our economy is not a zero sum game; the largest increases in GDP have directly correlated with population growth. The US is in no danger of becoming food insecure.. small pockets of population in the Southwest have short-term freshwater issues.. explain how that correlates to long-term survivability of our species?

        March 11, 2014 at 11:04 am |
    • Jack

      U r an I,Diot. America's population is growing ONLY because of immigration. We have a 1.8/2 replacement rate

      March 10, 2014 at 8:18 pm | Reply
    • AJ

      They're not smarter, they're oppressed. I am half Chinese, half Mexican. My mother lost a daughter...don't know, most likely was slaughtered. Damn screwed up government. Her and my older brother managed to escape to Hong Kong. Her husband was put in prison for resisting by trying to save his daughter. Hr was killed there. She ended up in Hawaii and got work on a base. My dad is a Marine, they dated, got married. Anyways we all live in Ca, I see the pain in her eyes over the situation. She gives thanks that she lives in the US, where she got to have as many kids as she wanted. There's a total of four of us, my father works for the police now and mom owns her own bakery...imigrants are amazing hard workers. Maybe we can solve the over population issue by eradicating all the oppressive people in the world.

      March 10, 2014 at 10:12 pm | Reply
    • Charles

      Please stop saying the Chinese are smarter than us.

      China is one big slight, workcamp ripping off the intellectual property of the world, and is 100 years behing in human rights and living conditions.

      March 11, 2014 at 12:05 am | Reply

        I am Chinese but used to live in the United States. I am sure that my living condition in China is better than many people in the US. Thank you and keep dreaming that you are the world leader.

        March 11, 2014 at 6:32 am |
      • istenno

        Traveller, that may be true. but it is also true that my living condition here in the US is much better than that of many Chinese. it is also true that there are people living in Congo that have better living conditions than either of us. you and i are are not necesarily indicators of national status.

        March 11, 2014 at 7:02 am |
    • Brad Johnson

      teakiller- you're making a very serious 'correlation vs. causation' error. Historical studies show that emerging economies have a direct lag effect on birth rates.. This means that as countries move from third world agrarian economies, children become cost centers rather than profit centers. In smaller words: Children help farmers earn money; children cost factory workers money.

      March 11, 2014 at 11:13 am | Reply
    • MiLin

      What you have said is untrue. China has had one-child policy (which includes forced sterilizations and forced abortions into the millions) for decades and this did not solve their poverty problem (which stems more from political/economic corruption). It is also true that when people become richer, they become more self-centered, aka more selfish. Selfish adults don't want to sacrifice their time or energy to raise children. This mindset is also in US, where adults are more concerned with how much they make, how great their home is, how wonderful their careers are than wanting to raise children.

      March 11, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Reply
    • meledir

      Until we stop running a world economy based on debt, some population growth is needed to keep the machine running.

      March 11, 2014 at 2:46 pm | Reply
  2. Knowtherruth

    View this site on Facebook.allgirlsallowed It is so telling of the anguish Chinese women are suffering due to the one child policy. This article doesn't come close to revealing the truth about the country's genocide. Women who become pregnant after their one child limit are forced to undergo an abortion. Many, many families do have more than one child, but hide the second child, to avoid fines or worse.

    March 10, 2014 at 6:15 pm | Reply
    • MiLin

      I am familiar with All Girls Allowed organization (run by Chinese themselves) who wish to bring awareness to the suffering of the women there (for decades) with forced abortion and forced sterilizations. Poverty does not come from large families, because if that were true, China would be rich by now given how long their one-child policy has been in effect. Poverty comes from human right violations and greed and political corruption. Children bring happiness and love to parents, as they are (in essence) a physical manifestation of their love.

      March 11, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Reply
  3. NK

    typical cnn article, they like to propagate this "no children" idea

    March 10, 2014 at 6:22 pm | Reply
  4. sonstep

    yet, no one tells the the Mexican immigrants to slow down on having children. in fact, just a few years ago, in Texas the republicans thought it was cute. and it would add to their ability to buy things, enriching their pockets..

    March 10, 2014 at 6:34 pm | Reply
    • over breeding not by race or class

      Well, my brother's white, middle class U.S. citizen over umpteen generations and he and his wife still spat out three children. He works two jobs and his wife works part time and they still need mom and dad on both sides to help pay the bills. He should have gotten a vascetomy after the second one. They also should learn the concept of "live within your means", which includes having only the children that can be properly supported.

      March 10, 2014 at 7:10 pm | Reply
      • Kevin

        You should tell your nephew you wish he had never been born. You may drop a couple notches on the 'Uncle of the Year' board.

        March 10, 2014 at 10:26 pm |
      • Brad Johnson

        The three children for that couple provides an anecdotal illustration for the low US birthrate (1.88 births per woman). In the last several hundred years, countries who become wealthy experience lower birth rates. Fareed noted a few key variables.. the strongest of which is cost to raise a child. Most people with the ability to family plan understand that three children may provide unsustainable financial strain.

        March 11, 2014 at 11:08 am |
  5. OnChina

    Its early to talk about this. Let Chinese surprise us, as they did many times in a past. After all, as you have said, China is a the great historic anomaly.

    March 10, 2014 at 6:43 pm | Reply
  6. Dale

    What went wrong!? This is GREAT NEWS for the fight to stop human overpopulation and animal extinction endangerment! Now would India just get their act together and stop their terrible population problem.

    March 10, 2014 at 7:03 pm | Reply
    • Brad Johnson

      Have you done any study on historical global demographic trends? These things happen organically without the need for oppressive government regulations.. or -in china's extreme- forced abortions.

      March 11, 2014 at 11:09 am | Reply
  7. twotwotango

    INDIA is a bigger overpopulation problem than China. At least the Chinese have a cool culture and great food! indian culture is terrible (disgusting food, silly dancing, bad music, and poor sanitation).

    March 10, 2014 at 7:20 pm | Reply
    • Real man

      Chinese food, dancing, music and sanitation sucks!!! Your food is blend, your music sounds like crap, Kung Fu is not even good for a real fight its only good in the choreographed movie (fake fighting) your sanitation is so bad that why all of the disease of the world originate in China like SARS, bird flu, H1N1 flu and HIV
      hah I rather die then be a china-man,

      March 11, 2014 at 11:33 am | Reply
  8. Ken Margo

    Rick Santorum Would hate china! Santorum thinks women should be home bearing babies, not out getting an education. If the other repubs would simply understand that less children equal less poverty, they wouldn't be against birth control and abortions.

    March 10, 2014 at 8:59 pm | Reply
    • Kevin

      If it's easier for you to stereotype Republicans that way, then go for it. But remember when grown ups are talking politics, you should probably sit out.

      March 10, 2014 at 10:33 pm | Reply
      • Ken Margo

        I noticed you didn't say I was lying. Republicans ARE against birth control and abortion. Repub govs have restricted womens right to abortions in several states. Repubs have been singing the same phony christian excuse that birth control is against their religious beliefs.

        March 11, 2014 at 2:57 pm |
  9. madhu

    Agree that India has an overpopulation problem however trashing their culture and food makes no sense in this discussion.Perhaps twtwotango needs culture lessions or maybe a passport to experience asia better. Making your life revolve around a McDonalds in your block will restrict your thinking.

    March 10, 2014 at 10:17 pm | Reply
    • Brad Johnson

      Adam Smith did note in the Wealth of Nations that southeast asia would become world powers due to their ability to grow rice and sustain larger populations. Food does have something to do with India's ability to continue to grow.

      March 11, 2014 at 11:10 am | Reply
  10. Kevin

    If our ultimate goal is highest possible per capita income, then nobody should have kids. I mean, yeah, we'll go extinct but man that final per capita income number will be high. Sweet.

    March 10, 2014 at 10:30 pm | Reply
    • Ken Margo

      Remember the response you gave earlier? You need to follow it and sit things out.

      March 11, 2014 at 2:59 pm | Reply
  11. ✠RZ✠

    Curbing the world's population growth is just fine by me. Humankind must be looked upon and respected as being more than just forms of water and carbon recycling itself. We've come a long way in a short time, but are fully stupid enough of blowing it large. The world will change as we change our way of thinking.

    March 10, 2014 at 11:30 pm | Reply
  12. Mark


    March 10, 2014 at 11:32 pm | Reply
  13. skeptic

    Each child costs $100K a year to attend an Ivy league school. By the time she graduates, you are $400K thinner in your retirement account.

    March 11, 2014 at 12:00 am | Reply
  14. ✠RZ✠

    Very good, I don't want the Chinese to have more children either.

    March 11, 2014 at 12:21 am | Reply
  15. Sarah

    Well, this article ended abruptly!

    March 11, 2014 at 12:24 am | Reply
  16. Barry

    Be fruitful and multiply said God.

    March 11, 2014 at 12:29 am | Reply
  17. stew

    So maybe it's just me, but I think the 1.3 billion population may have something to do with it. I understand the benefit of having a larger younger population but if they start having 2,3,4 + kids that may get out of hand fairly quickly. Very glad I'm here in the US where I can make these decisions for myself though.

    March 11, 2014 at 1:55 am | Reply
    • Ken Margo

      If the repubs get their way, they'll take that decision from you.

      March 11, 2014 at 3:02 pm | Reply
  18. Lucas

    Hong Kong is not a country!!!

    March 11, 2014 at 3:47 am | Reply
  19. Non.Chinese

    No, Chinese should not be our future.

    March 11, 2014 at 4:31 am | Reply
  20. alexlopezortiz

    The increase in fertility in France has nothing to do with monetary incentives. It is simply the result of increased immigration. Fertility for families with both parents born in France actually went down during that period. while fertility for mixed and all immigrant couples went up.

    March 11, 2014 at 7:31 am | Reply
  21. barbara

    Regardless of the per capita income in places like Singapore, everything in China is very expensive.

    March 11, 2014 at 8:53 am | Reply
  22. spanishone

    send them some of the undisciplined American monster children... they will start voluntary sterilization!

    March 11, 2014 at 9:13 am | Reply
  23. DctrnAtks

    For Bible Believers, The Instructions were "Multiply and replenish the earth"... realize that The Almighty organized and supply the earth for all his children since "God created man in his own image"... It would be nice to understand that we "Should not run faster than we are able" in the like principle, one should be able to understand that we should be able to control our urges, as to "Bridle our passions"... But we are all humans, and an enemy to our Godly inspirations, and we are wired with a need of fulfillment from between our legs at times, and not from between our ears, and therefore, we need to understand, when these uncontrolable urges, come, it's not because men made man and women, it's because God had a purpose for his offspring, and that is to have joy in having happy families. Even though you must "eat by the sweat of thy brow", you can live on many free grown fruits and veggies, but because we have developed a liking for beyond our ability to produce, we have hardshps... and though many women may have hardship in labor, the joy of a new born is only a testament of a joyous occasion. There fore if you do the math, there are enough food and land for all to share, its just that there are too many that rather be obese, and greedy than to share... these are my research... hope I don't offend any of you, thanks for sharing...lol

    March 11, 2014 at 9:33 am | Reply
  24. palintwit

    Historians now agree that the south lost the civil war because generations of inbreeding resulted in an abnormally high number of mentally challenged soldiers in the confederate army. Also, physical deformities such as webbed feet prevented the confederates from running from the northern army, thus insuring their capture and defeat. One has only to take a casual drive south of the Mason-Dixon line to see the descendants of the confederate forces, easily recognizable by their lack of teeth and sloping foreheads.

    The Chinese have studied US history and learned from us. That's why there isn't a Chinese version of Sarah Palin.

    March 11, 2014 at 10:20 am | Reply
    • MikeinChicago

      There probably is a Chinese version of Sarah Palin, but there isn't a Fox News to put her on TV all the time.

      March 11, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Reply
  25. candice

    I'm actually impressed with the coverage produced here and the value they've placed on women in their society and their ability to choose, with their partner, whether to have a first (or for many families now) a second child. Improved literacy and allowing women to make informed choices is already having an immense impact on China in ways that extend far beyond population control and into their development and business economies. Placing a high importance on literacy and education is something we need to be mindful to do, for both genders in every country through out the world. Education truly is how we move past poverty and begin to create opportunities, while I recognize that to get to that stage there are many things that we must do, like provide access to clean water and better medical attention and information. I think it's important to note the divide between developed and rural china as well. If they are going to aim for the median incomes of countries such as Singapore they will certainly need to address the disparity between their rich and poor, just like every developed and developing country.

    March 11, 2014 at 11:14 am | Reply
  26. MiLin

    Poverty does not come from having large families. If that were true, the majority in China would be wealthy now given the imposed one-child policy in place for decades! No, poverty comes from greed and political/economic corruption.

    March 11, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Reply
    • Ken Margo

      Majority of poverty comes from uneducated individuals. If we invested in people during childhood/school years, we wouldn't have to spend money on them in prison.

      March 11, 2014 at 4:06 pm | Reply
  27. Emmi

    If parnets can afford to have large families, so be it. The problem in the US is, too many welfare folks keep have kids, and they are unable to raise kids without a handout. We still have generations of families who never went college, held down a job, etc.

    March 11, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Reply
    • Ken Margo

      Yep pile on people getting public help. The repubs are against birth control and abortions. So your anger should be with them, not those getting help.

      March 11, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Reply
  28. mk1

    There is this thing called "The Demographic Transition Model" that was developed many years ago. Simply put, this model shows as societies grow economically, they have fewer children. First off health care improves and life expectancies increase which is followed by lower birth rates. This model was based on Europe from the 18th through the mid 20th centuries and has held up around the world as economies have grown. Birth rates are directly connected to a healthy economy which brings healthier people who live longer who wind up having fewer children. This story is a perfect example of that in China. Government programs do little unless they work to improve their overall economies. The problem that this brings in aging populations is a whole different matter of extreme concern.

    March 11, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Reply
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