The People’s Republic of China has long been famous for the way that it polices the children that its citizens can and cannot have. To combat overpopulation the country instituted a strict one-child policy that lasted between 1979 and 2016. The policy might have kept China’s population down, but it also had many unintended consequences, including the stigmatization of pregnancy.
Many modern women are the product of generations of policies discouraging pregnancy. This has left many Chinese women leery of motherhood. The problem is especially pronounced among China’s educated and upwardly mobile women. Many of them are feeling the pressures that are causing declining birth rates in developed countries across the world. In addition to lingering stigmas, they also have to deal with the cost of raising children and the risk of losing their careers.
In around two years China has gone from punishing women for having two children to paying extra for a second child. In Hubei province’s Xiantao city parents can earn 1,200 CNY for having a second son or daughter. This only amounts to around 175 USD, but it’s still a drastic change from the way things were just a few years before this new push for a baby boom.
It should be noted that China isn’t pushing for just anyone to have kids. They’re specifically trying to encourage educated women in urban centers to make babies of their own. This is because educated women from big cities are simultaneously ideal for raising a family and statistically unlikely to have many kids. China currently has a big problem with those who are known as “leftover women,” or women who have focused on their career and education into their late 20s or 30s rather than settling down and having kids. Government policies and social realities have been clashing for years, and the government is still having trouble finding a way to strike a balance between all the considerations.
One big concern is leave from work offered to women. To raise the birth rate Jiangsu province’s government instituted a plan to let newly impregnated women take time off of work so that they are less likely to miscarry due to work-related stress. This is a new benefit on top of leave for women who have miscarriages and women who have children. These policies are positive in many ways, but they may also discourage companies from hiring women out of fear that they might not be able to rely on them if they decide to get pregnant. This piles on new issues for Chinese women who are having a difficult enough time already balancing career, family, and government approval.