Much ado about rais­ing a sec­ond child

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Five prov­inces and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have im­ple­mented the new­fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy since the Third Plenum of the 18th Com­mu­nist Party of China Cen­tral Com­mit­tee passed it in­Novem­ber, and more prov­inces and re­gions will put it into prac­tice later.

Some people fear that the new­fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy would cause a baby boom while oth­ers ar­gue against such a pos­si­bil­ity be­cause many young cou­ples are not ea­ger to have a sec­ond child given the high cost of rais­ing one. Ir­re­spec­tive of which group is right, the cost of rais­ing a child has been ex­ag­ger­ated by so­cial and tra­di­tional me­dia.

Most of the on­line post­ings use ex­treme ex­am­ples. In one well-viewed on­line list, for in­stance, the cost of rais­ing a child in cities such as Bei­jing, Shang­hai and Shen­zhen— the costli­est three— is more than 2 mil­lion yuan ($329,200), and the cost in other first-tier cities is about 1.5 mil­lion yuan. But the fact is, first-tier cities don’t rep­re­sent the whole of China.

Ac­cord­ing to last year’s data from the Na­tional Health and Fam­ily Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, about 20 mil­lion cou­ples are el­i­gi­ble to have a sec­ond child be­cause ei­ther the hus­band or the wife (or both) is the only child of his/her par­ents. And Bei­jing, with about 450,000 such cou­ples who ac­count for less than 5 per­cent of the to­tal, can­not rep­re­sent all of them.

The cost of liv­ing has in­deed in­creased rapidly in re­cent years, but the way the cost of rais­ing a child has been cal­cu­lated in most on­line post­ings is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of rel­a­tively well-off cou­ples. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, the an­nual in­come of par­ents de­cides how much money they would spend on rais­ing a child. So, we can­not cal­cu­late the cost of rais­ing a child by as­sum­ing that all cou­ples are will­ing or able to pay for babysit­ters, over­seas trav­els and other ex­pen­sive ac­tiv­i­ties such as golf and horse rid­ing.

In­ter­na­tion­ally, the money spent on a child from birth to the age of 16 is con­sid­ered the cost of rais­ing a child. In some coun­tries, col­lege tu­ition is also added to the cost. But quite a few on­line post­ings in­clude wed­ding costs and even the down pay­ment for buy­ing a house in the cost of rais­ing a child, which is wrong.

Many people ar­gue that the cost of ed­u­ca­tion is too high for a large num­ber of Chi­nese fam­i­lies to af­ford. The Na­tional Bureau of Sta­tis­tics has said that the cost of ed­u­ca­tion has been in­creas­ing the fastest (about 20 per­cent a year on aver­age) among all house­hold ex­pen­di­tures in Chi­nese cities. Pay­ing for a child’s ed­u­ca­tion is re­port­edly the high­est among all the costs of rais­ing a child in China, nearly half the to­tal in some cities.

But the costs of early, pre-pri­mary and pub­lic school ed­u­ca­tion can vary greatly depend­ing on a fam­ily’s fi­nan­cial con­di­tion. Be­sides, the govern­ment has is­sued many new­poli­cies to cut in­ci­den­tal ex­penses in com­pul­sory ed­u­ca­tion. A China Youth and Chil­dren Re­search Cen­ter sur­vey, cov­er­ing 5,000 fam­i­lies in eight provin­cial cap­i­tals in 2011, shows the aver­age an­nual cost of com­pul­sory ed­u­ca­tion is about 8,774 yuan. Only 2.8 per­cent of the par­ents sur­veyed spent more than 30,000 yuan a year on their chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion, which means most of the par­ents can af­ford to pay for their chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion.

The fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy, which Chi­nese people fol­lowed for three decades, may have prompted many par­ents to have very high ex­pec­ta­tions of their only child. As a re­sult, many par­ents choose to spend huge amounts on their chil­dren’s pri­vate tu­itions to pre­pare them for ad­mis­sion to pre­mier schools, with some even spend­ing be­yond their means.

More­over, given the high hous­ing and liv­ing ex­penses in big cities, many par­ents have be­come used to pro­vid­ing mon­e­tary sup­port to their chil­dren even af­ter they are mar­ried and have fam­i­lies of their own, which is nei­ther a nor­mal nor a healthy phe­nom­e­non.

Of course, rais­ing a child costs money. But even if we add all the liv­ing and ed­u­ca­tion ex­penses, the an­nual aver­age cost of rais­ing a child up to the age of 16 is be­tween 20,000 and 30,000 yuan in cities, and the to­tal ex­pen­di­ture for 16 years will be less than 500,000 yuan. The cost of rais­ing a child in­creases sub­stan­tially only when par­ents sup­port their chil­dren even af­ter they be­come adults.

Be­sides, con­trary to what the on­line post­ings claim, rais­ing a sec­ond child is less ex­pen­sive than rais­ing the first, be­cause many of the things bought for the first can be used by the sec­ond. Most im­por­tantly, a sec­ond child eases the pres­sure on a sin­gle child and makes the fam­ily dy­namic more re­laxed.

So fam­i­lies el­i­gi­ble to have a sec­ond child, apart from con­sid­er­ing the cost of rais­ing one, should do the sums based on their own in­come and ex­pen­di­ture and take into ac­count the non-ma­te­rial re­wards of hav­ing a sec­ond child. The au­thor is a writer with China Daily. zhu­jin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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