Shanghai parents react coolly to relaxation of one-child policy

Planners may be disappointed as many couples say they cannot afford another mouth to feed

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 November, 2013, 4:57am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 November, 2015, 4:11pm

Despite the relaxation of the one-child policy, it appears that Shanghai will not witness an expected baby boom after all.

There had been a perception over the past decade that many young couples in China's largest city who already had a child were unhappy with family planning policies and were sidestepping regulations to have a second baby.

This was probably a contributing factor to the decision by senior leaders at their crucial third plenum this month that parents in urban areas would be able to have another child if one parent was a single child. Provinces and other cities will be able to decide when to introduce the reform.

Under the new policy, about 400,000 more families in Shanghai will be eligible to have a second baby. But new evidence now emerges that Shanghai parents are having second thoughts.

A survey of 1,200 Shanghai residents conducted by the internet portal Sina after the plenum announcement found that 70 per cent of respondents did not want more than one child - 24 per cent were "definite" about having only one baby, while 46 per cent said they would "probably" have one child, if any at all.

The cost of raising children seem to be the main deterrent: one child is expensive enough, while raising two is beyond the means of most families.

It has been roughly estimated that Shanghai families need to spend at least one million yuan (HK$1.25 million) on a child from birth to graduation from university. An average Shanghai family spends as much as 3,000 yuan a month on kindergarten fees and 2,000 yuan on English or art lessons. Education costs for children can account for half of a family's monthly income.

In major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, some parents can even spend more than one million yuan to buy a so-called "school-district" apartment.

Acquiring these homes, many of which are dilapidated, can help the family transfer their hukou, or official residency permit, to a district included in the catchment area of a top primary school. Young people in Shanghai believe that an adult's financial status and social connections play a decisive role in a child's future, from getting into elite schools to securing a good job. Many worry that spreading their incomes and resources to two children will not be enough to help both of them climb the social ladder.

Some young couples who already have a son are loathe to have a second child in case it is another boy. People in Shanghai believe that raising a boy costs much more than a girl because they are supposed to shoulder the responsibility of buying a home when they grow up and get married.

The everyday impediments that deter families from having more children is not good news for planners, who hoped that relaxing the one-child policy would help cushion the impacts of a rapidly ageing population. According to the Shanghai Research Centre on Ageing, the number of people aged 60 or more in the city was on course to increase by one million between 2011 and 2015.

Figures suggest that 80 per cent of senior citizens in the city had only one child, as they were the first generation subjected to the one-child policy.