Weary parents in China say the difficulties of juggling work and childcare in a costly and ultra-competitive society with little help from the state are at the root of the country’s dwindling birth rate.
Beijing reported Tuesday that the population shrank last year for the first time in over half a century, deepening a demographic crisis that experts warn could stymie economic growth and pile pressure on public coffers.
Local authorities across China have unveiled a series of measures to encourage child-bearing, including monthly stipends of several hundred yuan for new parents and one-off “birth bonuses”.
But those already with kids told AFP that balancing work in China’s cut-throat corporate world with a desire to give their offspring the best in life was dissuading many from having multiple children.
“Many households find it extremely difficult to raise one child and can’t handle it very well,” said Wenjing, a parenting blogger in her late 30s who decried “flimsy” government support.
“With the pandemic, a lot of households really suffered financially. Under these hard circumstances, many people decided not to have any more kids,” she said.
“I think whatever policies released now will be very insubstantial.”
China ended its draconian one-child policy in 2016 and then in 2021 allowed couples to have up to three children.
Major cities including Beijing and Shanghai have extended maternity leave to up to 158 days, while health authorities last year rolled out guidelines requiring local governments to provide nurseries, albeit for a fee.
But many obstacles remain, with no breastfeeding facilities at most workplaces and unmarried women barred from freezing their eggs.
A place in a private kindergarten can cost anywhere between 5,000 yuan ($740) and 20,000 yuan a month in Beijing, according to the Asia Society Policy Institute.
Many urban youth also live far from their extended families, cutting off a traditional source of childcare.