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China Daily Website

Another one on the way

Updated: 2014-02-14 08:47
By Joseph Catanzaro, Yan Yiqi and Li Aoxue ( China Daily Africa)

 Another one on the way

Left: Mao Yafei, vice-dean of Zhoushan Women's Hospital. Right: Le Zhangfeng and Zhou Na in Zhoushan are expecting their second child. Joseph Catanzaro / China Daily

"The conclusion is that not that many people are rushing into having a second child here," Yang says. "That means the low birth rate will not change overnight."

Yang says 80 percent of the 87 applicants are aged between 30 and 34, with the majority of the remaining applicants aged between 25 and 30.

"Only one applicant is over 40," she says.

So does the relatively slow and low take-up in Zhoushan suggest women in China do not want a second child?

Mao Yafei, vice-dean of Zhoushan Women's Hospital, does not necessarily think so.

At a consultation clinic that the hospital has opened to advise couples interested in having another baby, Mao says staff have been seeing a steady stream of women over 30 who are interested in having a second child, but want to assess their health and the risks first.

Nationally, officials estimate the policy change will see about 2 million extra babies being born every year for the next five years, on top of the existing annual birth rate of about 16 million.

Li Jianmin, a demographer with Nankai University in Tianjin, says studies show about 60 percent of eligible people surveyed would consider having a second baby.

The huge interest surrounding these figures has also given birth to a number of theories at home and abroad about how effective the new policy will be as an agent for demographic change.

Mao says what she is seeing in Zhoushan contradicts a line being put forward by international pundits that suggests China's labor force problem will be exacerbated in the short term by women leaving the workplace after having a second child.

"Women of an older age are asking questions about whether they will be safe during the pregnancy (to work) and how well they will recover after the pregnancy, so they can go back to work," she says.

Public servant Zhao Zhenghao, 34, is one of those locals now planning and saving for two children.

Tucking into a meal in a restaurant in Zhoushan, he says his wife, who is hoping to be pregnant with their first child this year, will not give up her career but may adjust her working hours.

"My wife will not give up her job," he says. "She can have shorter working hours, and so can I."

He is also dismissive of another view commonly bandied about by foreign Sinologists that Chinese people of child bearing age will be unable to afford a second baby, particularly because they will need to financially support two sets of parents and possibly even their grandparents.

"Two children won't be that much (more expensive) than one," he says.

"Both of our parents have high pensions; they earn more than we do now.

"I am a representative of my generation in the cities. Most of our parents have jobs and pensions and can support themselves."

In relatively wealthy Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province, the average pension is about 2,500 yuan ($413; 304 euros) per person per month, more than enough to cover basic expenses, Zhao says.

Even his grandmother, now in her 90s, is still mobile and can financially support herself.

Wang Feng, a demographer with both the University of California Irvine and Fudan University, says there are seven main types of retirement income schemes in China, and latest census figures show 70 percent of retirees do not rely on their pension as their major source of income.

Highly segmented and full of disparity, the pension system in China is undergoing reform, but the sheer, and rapidly rising, number of retirees means the process is complex, expensive and slower than many would like.

Wang says the issue is less about Chinese being able to afford the basic costs of raising a second child, and more about whether they can afford to give those second children the top notch, expensive education and financial support that has become typical in the past three decades.

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