Much ado about raising a second child
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. firstname.lastname@example.org