For love nor money: dragon baby boom contends with soaring child-rearing costs

News outlets have widely reported that the Year of the Dragon could bring a glimmer of hope for China’s shrinking population, as it is traditionally seen as the most auspicious zodiac for birth, bestowing babies with extra smarts, success, and riches.

Indeed, data from some hospitals showed a “significant” increase in births over the Spring Festival period. Beijing-based news outlet Yicai Global cited hospitals in the cities Wuxi and Xi’an, which saw 20% and 72% surges in birth rates respectively. Marriage rates are also seeing a slight “rebound” effect in some regions of the country, possibly due to a backlog of couples who postponed their marriages during the pandemic. This is welcome news as China’s population shrank for the second year running in 2023, signalling a likely irreversible long-term population decline.

But the exorbitant cost of raising children in China remains one of the biggest obstacles to a more sustained boom. Beijing-based YuWa Population Research Institute reported on February 21 that raising a child to the age of 18 costs 538,000 RMB (59,275 USD) on average, making China the second most expensive country in the world to raise kids after South Korea. This sum is 6.3 times higher than the country’s GDP per capita and 11% higher than YuWa’s previous estimate. In Shanghai and Beijing, the costs are of course much higher, standing at 1.01 million RMB (140,328 USD) and 936,000 RMB (130,047) respectively.

Financial cost is not the only consideration – women in particular are concerned about the hit to their own personal and professional development, not to mention the hours devoted to childcare and household chores that are likely to fall largely on their shoulders.

“The high cost of childbearing is one of the most significant negative factors affecting the willingness of families to have children and a fertility-friendly environment first and foremost needs to be female-friendly,” suggests Liang Jianzhang, who heads the research institute and also co-founded Ctrip, China’s leading online travel agency. Liang is openly critical of the one-child policy and was even briefly suspended from Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, for writing an article calling China’s demographic policy decisions “unscientific”.


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