To Have or Not to Have a Second Child


THE modification of China’s birth control policy which allows couples where either parent is a single offspring to have a second child came into force at the end of 2013. Although many young couples are indeed eager to have a second child, there are also plenty who are not. For many, whether or not to give birth a second time is a weighty decision.

Avoid Only-Child Loneliness

Guo Qian, 30, formally announced her intention to conceive and give birth to a sibling – with luck a sister – for her son at a birthday dinner for her mother-in-law in a Beijing roast duck restaurant.

Guo’s son Dafeng is five years old. After coming home from kindergarten he spends most of his time playing on his iPad. Since he began to watch the TV show Where Are We Going, Dad? with his mother, Dafeng has taken a shine to Cindy, one of the characters in this program, who recently bought an Ultra Egg toy for her younger brother. This impressed Dafeng sufficiently to plead with his mom to give birth to a sister for him.

Guo Qian was born in 1983, after the “single child” family planning policy had come into force.

Upon its founding in 1949, the population of New China was 540 million. By 1954 it had grown to more than 600 million, and by 1969 had topped 800 million – a huge burden on what was then a poor country. Measures to control the population growth, therefore, were imperative. By September 1982, family planning had been legislated as a fundamental state policy, and was strictly enforced during the succeeding 10 or more years. By 2005, an additional 400 million births, which could have included younger siblings of Guo Qian, had been avoided.

More than half of Guo’s generational contemporaries are single children. “I don’t want my son to suffer the loneliness I experienced as a child,” Guo Qian said.

Guo’s husband is similarly keen for Dafeng to have a sibling as a companion. This was impossible until the recent relaxation of the family planning policy, whose coming into effect presages major changes in the couple’s family life. Guo and her husband’s economy drive in preparation for a fourth mouth to feed entails, among other savings, giving up membership of the local fitness club.

“It’s sad for an only child never to experience the happiness and companionship that comes from having siblings,” Guo Qian said. She recalls how silent her home seemed when her parents worked overtime. Toys, and the TV cartoon characters the Blue Smurfs and Mole, were her sole companions in an empty apartment.

“A second child will help solve the problem of a spoiled only child and create a healthier family environment,” Guo said.

Many young couples share Guo Qian’s sentiments. In a 2010 China Youth News Social Survey Center web survey on parenting, 77.5 percent of the 6,000 participants said that, government policy allowing, two children would be an ideal family.

According to research by the National Health and Family Planning Commission on fertility desires, 15 million to 20 million people will be affected by the policy that “allows a couple to have a second child if one of them comes from a one-child family.” Network data from Renmin University of China show that 60.5 percent of respondents opted to have second child and 27.2 percent not to, while 12.2 percent were undecided.

Apart from wanting two children to avoid inflicting loneliness on a single offspring, many Chinese people, especially rural residents, also hold to the tradition of “bringing up sons to support parents in their old age.” Consequently, when local governments formulated local regulations on population control and family planning in the 1980s and 90s, they were comparatively lenient with regard to rural residents.

Guo Qian’s parents are of a generation born in the 1950s, when almost every family had two or more children. Guo still remembers how, when her grandfather fell ill, her aunts and uncles came to take care of him. “Although my father was not in town, his brothers and sisters took responsibility for caring for my grandfather. They could rely on each other,” Guo said.

As a single child, Guo Qian dreads the approach of her parents’ old age. Apart from the worry of being too busy to take care of them singlehandedly, her main concern is the absence of spiritual familial support.

“Looking after four parents is an onerous responsibility for couples where both partners are single children. Having two children will double our old age guarantee but, more importantly, make our lives more fulfilling,” Guo said.

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