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Story Publication logo May 15, 2018

Chinese Women Delay Starting a Family


Image by Argentina Vanderhorst. China, 2018.

After almost four decades, the one-child policy that controlled women reproductive rights in China...

A young woman stands with her daughter in the park in front of Minzu University in Beijing. Image by Argentina Maria-Vanderhorst. China, 2018.
A young woman stands with her daughter in the park in front of Minzu University in Beijing. Image by Argentina Maria-Vanderhorst. China, 2018.

Young Chinese women appear to be in no rush to get married or have children. Empowered by China’s one-child policy introduced in 1979, women focused on their future career—contributing to the lowering birth rate.  “The total fertility rate, which is defined as the mean number of children born per woman, decreased from 2.9 in 1979 to 1.7 in 2004, with a rate of 1.3 in urban areas and just under 2.0 in rural areas,” according to The New England Journal of Medicine.

In 2015, the government revised its policy—issuing instead a two-child policy. But now it seems many women are reluctant to have that second child.

The one-child policy enforced rigid family planning policies, including IUDs after one child and tubal ligation after two. It was effective in preventing millions of births, with an important secondary effect: increasing the economic and social mobility of women and girls.

“I hope to get married before 30 and have a kid before 38,”said Wei Qiushuang, a Chinese teacher, who is now the program coordinator for the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) in Beijing.

Xin Honolu, a Chinese student at Minzu University in Beijing China, who plans to become a foreign language teacher said, “I want to have a boyfriend after I find a job.” She would like to have two children—a boy and a girl, plans to marry in her mid-30s, and have children at age 35.

Like Qiushuang and Honolu, most educated Chinese women  plan to get married and have babies in their 30s. “Nationwide, the average age is now 27.4, up from 26.4 in 2007. And in Shanghai last year, for the first time ever, the average age for young women to get married was over 30,” Bill Powell reports for Newsweek. Women want to have a stable job and financial stability. As Qiushuang said, “young people want to improve their lives.”

Honolu hopes that her future husband will earn more money than she will. The amount a husband can contribute to the family is essential because raising a child is  expensive. It costs 490,000 yuan, which in dollars is $77,165 to raise a child from birth to 16 years old in an average city in China, according to CNBC.

Although Chinese women plan to get married later in life, Chinese society stigmatizes women who are unmarried by their late 20s. As one of the CIEE teachers told me, “I would be considered as a “left-over [woman]” because by the age of 26 if you aren’t married, you would be considered one.”

Qiushuang and Honolu say they want two children because they wouldn’t want an only child to feel lonely. Honolu says she remembers her only-child childhood as boring and lonely.

Qiushuang, unlike Honolu, has two siblings. She remembers that when she was six her family had to run away from their village after paying a fine for having her little brother. Now, her parents tell her to take advantage of the new second-child policy that gives couples the option to have two children.

Before the second-child policy was implemented in 2015, most Chinese women were not allowed to have more than one child. However, as Qiushuang explained, there were exceptions. There are 56 ethnic groups in China—some ethnic groups like the Han and Zhuang were allowed to have more than one child due to their limited population at the time the policy was implemented.

To the "Western" perspective, the one-child policy may be seen as a violation of human rights. The National Rights to Life News claimed that many women were forced to have an abortion if they already had a child. Many women, especially in rural areas, preferred to have sons—causing a huge gap between genders. If a woman decided to have a second child, the baby could be denied education and health care. They would also be charged a fine. If they could not pay the high fine, they would be jailed or beaten.

Young people want to become financially stable to improve their lives, Qiushuang said. When they become elderly, they do not want to depend on their children. The old Chinese tradition of young people taking care of their parents when they age is changing. "Young people work hard and want to retire not depending on their children. People do not want to rely on their children to be taken care of in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai," Qiushuang explained.

It is common for young women to work in the education field. Juan Zhang, a 30-year-old woman, who is an assistant manager of student services at the CIEE Shanghai Center and had a baby almost nine months ago stated, "Many girls in East China Normal University go to school for education." A good, stable job in education allows women  to take care of the family during holiday breaks. Most Chinese-educated women want to become a teacher because it is an "ideal" job for women. Men, however, do not want to become a teacher because is is not a high-paying job.

Like Zhang, Honolu believes,"being a teacher is convenient and common (for women). It is because it's stable." Although, Honolu does not really like the idea of becoming a teacher, she will become a teacher because her mother is a teacher. Honolu has to follow her strict mother's footsteps. Her mother married at age 30 and then gave birth.

Zhang explained that her husband and family are trying to convince her to have another child. "People in my community want to have more children. I know a family in college who have a child and had another baby." Many Chinese-educated women now want to have more than one child—but only after they have established a stable job .

The Communist government is creating propaganda to persuade women to have children. According to Leta Hong Fincher in The New York Times, the publication of the Communist Youth League in the Beijing Youth Daily targets young female students in universities to have children.  Nationwide, Chinese women are required to take 128 days of maternity leave or more.

As many can argue that a state-mandated one-child policy–and, now the second-child policy—is a violation of human rights, as a result many women in China have become empowered through living under these policies. Especially those living in cities are enjoying more educational, work, and career opportunities. They are prioritizing their work, career, and financial stability over starting a family.


Three women grouped together: an elderly woman smiling, a transwoman with her arms folded, and a woman holding her headscarf with a baby strapped to her back.


Gender Equality

Gender Equality

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