Childless by Choice in Contemporary China: Reasons and Consequences
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Childless by Choice in Contemporary China: Reasons and Consequences
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S268684310015763-7-1
DOI
10.18254/S268684310015763-7
Publication type
Article
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Published
Authors
Olga S. Bolter 
Affiliation: Independent Researcher
Address: Germany, Würzburg
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145-160
Abstract

The article considers financial, social, and personal reasons for childlessness by choice among young Chinese and analyzes the consequences of such a decision. Voluntary childlessness is a new phenomenon for China that became more present even after the abolition of the one-child policy and an increase in the promotion of early marriages and childbirth. Traditional family values gradually ceased importance in society. Resembling developed Western countries, the majority of voluntary childless Chinese belongs to well-educated urban citizens who prioritize quality life and personal development over having children. However, many decide for childlessness under financial insecurity due to the high living costs in the first-and second-tier cities, lack of a developed social security system, and obligation to support elderly parents. Even though most voluntary childless are satisfied with their choice, they often feel pressured and pushed to childbirth by their families and even by the government. China is facing a growing aging population problem. Attempting to solve the emerging issue, the Party increases propaganda of childbirth, and voluntary childlessness receives more attention in society, which exerts more emotional pressure on childless Chinese, who fear additional stress and discrimination at the workplace and in personal life.

Keywords
voluntary childlessness, contemporary China, youth in China, demographic politics of PRC, family institution in China, childfree
Received
03.07.2021
Date of publication
03.08.2021
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445
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1 Traditionally China is a country where such family values as marriage and childbirth play a central role in society. However, in recent years, the birthrate in the country is shrinking. More and more Chinese are choosing voluntary childlessness. What are the reasons for such a decision? What impact on the development of the country it might have?
2 Voluntary childlessness is a new phenomenon for China. In 2015, despite the abolition of the one-child policy (独生子女政策dúshēng zinǚ zhèngcè), the number of newborns in the country continued to shrink and by 2019 reached the lowest level since the formation of the People’s Republic of China — 11.8 per 1.0001. More and more Chinese postpone childbirth or prefer no children at all. Such tendency is one of the challenges for the Communist Party. About one-third of the population is predicted to be aged over 60 by the year 2050, followed by the shrinking labor force, which will lead to the inability to adequately support the elderly with both pension payments and help from the younger people. In the long run, this is unsustainable for the economy and threatens the social, cultural, and technological development of the country.
1. China: Average Annual Number of Births. World Population Prospects. United Nations. URL: >>>> (accessed:16.04.2021).
3 The shrinking population rates and decrease in fertility evoked the attention of the researchers to the topic of voluntary childlessness in China. However, this question is difficult to study due to some reasons. First, it is not easy to find voluntary childless to conduct interviews or surveys. Voluntary childless are usually recognized as “double income no kids” (DINK) households and are still a deviation rather than a new reality of China. The majority of Chinese still adhere to conservative views and considers childbirth one of the main filial responsibilities. Unwillingness or inability to continue one’s family line is condemned by modern society. Hence, many voluntary childless are reluctant to share their life choice openly.
4 Second, it is hard to estimate whether a young childless couple would not change their mind and eventually transform into a nuclear family. The couple in a DINK household can procreate but actively choose not to, or forced not to out of subjective or objective reasons. According to the preliminary results of a study carried out by Fudan University in 2013 and targeted the generation born in the 1980s, 4% of young people aged 24 to 27 were not planning to have children. The rate dropped quickly to 2.4% for the age group 29 to 32. This indicates an unstable inclination toward childbearing among young people. As time passes, “young” DINK households may quickly transform into standard nuclear households and no longer belong to the DINK category [Hu, Peng, 2015, p. 15].
5 Birthrate Under the Party’s Policies
6 PRC’s birthrate has always been under the control of the Communist Party. It took only 11 years for the fertility rate to tumble from six births per woman in 1967 to fewer than three in 1978. With the introduction of the one-child policy (Fig. 1), the rate continued to slowly decline, falling below the replacement rate by 1992. China experienced its lowest total fertility rates — hovering around 1.65 — between 2006 and 2015, before climbing slightly to 1.7 in 2016 with the implementation of the two-child policy (两孩政策 liǎng hái zhèngcè) (Fig. 2)
7

8 Fig. 1. “One Couple Gives Birth to Only Child.” Photograph by Barry Lewis, Alamy. URL: >>>> (accessed 18.01.2021).
9

10 Fig. 2. Fertility Rate, Total (Births per Woman), China. United Nations Population Division. World Population Prospects: 2019 Revision. The World Bank. URL: >>>> (accessed:10.04.2021).
11 The United Nations Organization projects that China’s population will peak at 1.44 billion in 2030, then start to decrease, but will remain above 1 billion by 2100 [Yue, Choo, Lovell, 2019, p. 3]. Several studies investigated that demographic trends and views on childbirth in China gradually resemble those in the West and that family transitions in East Asia are also related to the second demographic transition occurring in the West. In the same way as in the developed western countries, Chinese society switches to individualism, mature and consensual marriage, independent living, personal freedom, high status for women, and controlled fertility [Djundeva, Pearl, Emery, 2019, p. 144].
12 Since the era of reform and opening up, the size, structure, and stability of China’s household have gone through a significant transformation. The function of the family and its ability to bear traditional responsibility have been challenged to a greater extent [Hu, Peng, 2015, p. 1]. The attitude of society towards family and childbirth was reshaping over time under the implementation of birth control policies and changes in the economic situation. The Chinese that decided to spend their lives without giving birth to a child had different reasons for it, most of which include: financial struggle, elderly care burden, desire to acquire prestigious education and receive better career prospects, high costs for children upbringing, lack of social securities, dissatisfaction with the environment for raising children and other personal reasons.
13 Financial Problems as Reasons for Voluntary Childlessness
14 China has become a middle-income economy at а faster pace than its European and Latin American counterparts. The living standards of China’s population rose rapidly that led to the emergence of new workplaces, income growth, improvement of living conditions. Consequently, it initiated changes in the lifestyles of the Chinese and views on gender relationships and property.
15 From observing the Gini index trends, scholars concluded that despite unprecedented economic prosperity, inequality in post-2000 China remains greater than in European countries. For example, in 2008, the Gini index for China (42.8) was higher than those for the Netherlands (29.9), the UK (34.4), and Germany (31.3)2. Comparison of the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita levels in the period 1970–20153 shows that the absolute rise in China’s GDP is still below European levels [Djundeva, Pearl, Emery, 2019, p. 148]. The rising Chinese middle class, which is expected to improve demographics, financially lags behind its counterparts from developed Western countries. Well-educated and affluent Chinese being in a tough financial situation prefer a quality life for themselves and, therefore, choose childlessness.
2. Gini Index, China. The World Bank. URL: >>>> (accessed: 10.04.21).

3. GDP (Current US$), China. The World Bank. URL: >>>> (accessed: 10.04.21).
16 High economic pressure on housing in tier 1 and 2 cities acts as an impediment to building a family. In recent years, housing developments have ballooned, and house prices have rocketed. From June 2015 through to the end of 2018, the Housing Price Index of China rose 31% to nearly $202 per square foot4, which is around 38% higher than that in the US, where per-capita income is more than 7 times higher. Most housing is too expensive for the average Chinese family to finance [Yue, Choo, Lovell, 2019, p. 10].
4. Housing Prices Indicator. OECD. URL: >>>> (accessed 10.04.2021).
17 The other two factors for leading a childless life are the incapability to provide care to the aging parents and to bear high costs for the children’s upbringing.
18 The “Four-Two-One” Problem
19 The People’s Republic of China is recognized as having become an aging society. Elderly care became the central issue for many Chinese. Due to the large size of China’s population, at over 1.398 million, the PRC now has the largest population aged 65+ of any country globally. In 2019, its population aged 65 or over was 160.3 million, accounting for about 11.4% of the total population5. This proportion is expected to reach 32.8% by 2050. The PRC has aged demographically because of drastic fertility declines driven specifically by population policy and socio-economic development over the last decades. [Phillips, Feng, 2015, p. 2]. The proportion of the population that is in the workforce continues to fall, while pension and healthcare costs remorselessly rise.
5. Population Ages 65 and Above (% of Total Population). The World Bank. URL: >>>> (accessed 10.04.2021).
20 The social security system in China consists of several disparate regimes. The welfare provided by the social security system greatly varies across groups and regions. Public service employees are particularly favorable because they can receive a high pension after retirement — 90% of the salary remains. The company employees could get only 59.2% of the salary for the pension [Yue, Choo, Lovell, 2019, p. 6].
21 The old Chinese proverb says: “old age security is to have sons” (养儿防老 (yǎng’ér fánglǎo).When the social security system cannot cover the entire population, the elderly are still dependent on their children [Wu, Yin, 2019, p. 72]. Elderly people require more healthcare services than younger kin, and the cost of medical treatment, care, and service as a share of GDP in China is predicted to increase from 6.97% in 2015 to 21.77% in 2050 — higher than that of many developed countries [Yue, Choo, Lovell, 2019, p. 7]. Public expenditure on healthcare and long-term care rises by 1.7% of GDP by 2045 in the whole Eurozone [Brändle, Colombier, 2017, p. 63]. According to the 2010 census questionnaire, most elderly people in China rely on the families, 1/4 of them depend on pensions, and about 1/5, especially rural residents, continue to work. The aging population affects the financial stability of families [Yue, Choo, Lovell, 2019, p. 7].
22 Chinese people say “a person has parents to look after, and children to raise” (上有老下有小, shàng yǒu lǎo xià yǒu xiǎo) to describe the young people’s difficult situation [Wu, Yin, 2019, p. 73]. As the aging population increases, the pressure to provide them will continue to fall on working members of the family (Fig. 3). According to the projection of the United Nations, without a substantial rebound in fertility rate, China’s dependency ratio will continue to grow even after 2050, and reach up to 0.8 in 2070. That means every fourth working person will have to support at least two aged people and one child by 20706.
6. The Silver and White Economy: The Chinese Demographic Challenge. Fostering Resilient Economies: Demographic Transition in Local Labour Markets. OECD LEED Working Papers Series. 2012. URL: >>>> (accessed 17.04.2021).
23

24 Fig. 3. Four-Two-One Problem. Illustration by Luojie, Cagle Cartoons. China Daily. URL: >>>> (accessed 18.01.2021).
25 Often young couples realize that they do not have enough resources to support their parents and decide to remain childless. For example, as the only child, 27 years old Guo, who now works in Beijing as an accountant, must take care of parents in early 60s and four grandparents over 80 years old. He says:
26 “I do love my grandparents, but their poor health has always been a headache for me, and my parents can’t help much because they are growing old day by day too. I have already taken on a lot of pressure to achieve my career goals. It costs more time, money and effort to raise a child in today's society. I don't think I can manage to do both at the same time7”.
7. China Focus: DINKs in aging China. Xinhua. URL: >>>> (accessed: 13.02.2020).
27 Due to filial piety, which still has a great impact on Chinese society, children must take care of old parents. While filial piety originally implied absolute obedience and involved the practice of Confucian rites, the focus today is on respect and care for one’s parents. Chinese express care through financial and emotional support: regular visits, help with chores, and joint activities. They underscore that filial piety has a limit. While willing to support parents up to a certain point, they refuse to be blindly obedient. They are not willing to have a child for the parent’s sake. Most of them — particularly those with no siblings — admit that it is a pity that they deny parents the chance of being grandparents but stress the decision for or against children lies solely with the couple [Alpermann, Herrmann, Wieland, 2018, p. 58].
28 Lack of Affordable Childcare Resources
29 China has nearly no childcare facilities for children between 0 and 3 years of age, including paid childcare leave with flexible working hours, subsidies, or facilities for children under three. Only 4% of children up to three are in childcare facilities in China, it is below the OECD average of 34.4% 8. Grandparents play a significant role in raising young children at home [Yue, Choo, Lovell, 2019, p. 13]. Many young couples simply cannot afford children’s upbringing.
8. Better Life Index-Work Life Balance. OECD. URL: >>>> (accessed 19.04.2021).
30 The amount of raising costs for a child to 18 years old in China varies from one region to another. In big Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai, one million RMB (156.000 US$) is needed for a modest calculation. One interviewee from Shanghai said:
31 “I got married two years ago. I'm not ready to become a dad, my wife either. My colleagues and my friends who have one or two children are no longer free. It’s the end of freedom. In addition, they always talk about the daily expenses of their child, which scares us. They will also pay a lot of money for children’s schooling and their future marriages ... For all I say! We must think if we are ready to have our child!” [Wu, Yin, 2019, p. 72].
32 One child requires a huge expense. Since domestic products which are much cheaper are not preferred due to security reasons, many parents choose to buy imported food and toys for kids. Parents expect children to take part in various courses to develop their skills and learn languages so that they will not lose at the starting line before school. Chinese parents are striving to provide the best education for children. Theoretically, going to a nearby school is the cheapest way for a child’s parents. The qualities of the schools are diverse. Parents prefer schools with a good reputation, but such schools have enrollment competitions. Children are required to pass an exam to show the level of intelligence and only those who have passed the exam can pay an extra commission to enter. The reason for the commission is the location: they are not in the neighborhood. Parents agree to pay so children have an opportunity to enter the “key schools”.
33 When it comes to higher education, parents are required to provide financial support to children and cover the tuition fees. They hope to buy an apartment for a child, prices for which might be extremely high, especially in the first-tier cities. When getting married, the boy’s parents are supposed to buy an apartment for the young couple, which is a novel rule. More and more parents prepare the same daughters so she has an equal position to the husband [Wu, Yin, 2019, p. 73].
34 Change in Values: Childbirth and Marriage Are No Longer a Necessity
35 In the past, children were a necessity of marriage. Soon after the wedding, the couple was expected to produce offspring to continue the family line and fulfill filial responsibilities. The family ties were traced through men in a continuous “descent line” linking a man with ancestors and offspring. The welfare of a family depended on the family members. Large numbers of children, especially sons, were desired for economic contribution to the household, the function of carrying on the family line, and the social security provided as parents aged. A major purpose of marriage was to give birth to children to ensure carefree oldness. Infertility threatened harmony in the marital relationship and questioned the material well-being of the family and especially in the couple’s old age [Ma, Rizzi, Turunen, 2019, pp. 756-757].
36 The reforms of opening up, raise of the education level among people, promotion of gender equality and the influence of Western values have contributed to the change of the attitudes towards marriage. The Great Leap Forward and People’s Commune Movement in 1958 pushed more women out of the house and into the workforce in the 1960s. Females received the opportunity to achieve more independence. Marriage stopped being the guarantee of the woman’s well-being after she became able to provide herself financially.
37 The migration within the country increased. More young people started to leave homes for educational and career purposes. Such tendencies influenced the downsizing of households and the decrease of the households’ structure. By 2010, 13.7 % were one-person households and 24.4 % were two-person households [Hu, Peng, 2015, p. 4]. Young people, regardless of gender, became more independent. Ancient traditions are no longer being the core of the Chinese mentality. Acquiring more financial independence and security, both women and men obtain freedom to follow their own life choices and remain unmarried and childless if they prefer to. After the government started to provide citizens with basic social security and established a pension system, children ceased to occupy an important position in the family economy and stopped being the hope for the elderly. A female graphic designer from Qingdao9 says:
9. No Baby, No Cry. Growing Individualism and an Embrace of Non-Traditional Values Mean More Young Couples are Choosing to Stay Childless —Despite Pressure to Procreate. The world of Chinese. URL: >>>> (accessed: 13.02.2020).
38 “If I can enjoy a happy life for 60 years, why should I care about the last ten years, when I’ll probably be paralyzed? Today, takeout can be just sent to your door. Dozens of years in the future, what basic necessities won’t be covered?”
39 Receiving more financial independence, childfree couples became more acceptable in society. For example, the results of the 2006 Chinese General Social Survey showed 25% of the respondents supported the idea that “marriage is not necessarily bound to children” [Zhang, 2016, p. 445]. More young Chinese decide not to marry. According to the 2018 census, China had the largest population of singles in the world — 200 million unmarried people, which is about 15% of China’s population. Around 15% of all Chinese households are “one-person households”, which counts 60 million. Since traditional views on marriage and childbirth are still relevant in society, many people prefer not to marry to avoid the pressure of not having children right after the marriage [Wu, Yin, 2019, p. 72].
40 However, the percentage of DINK families in China is less than in the developed Western countries. In 2002, more than 66% of the respondents from Sweden, Great Britain, and Germany stated that having children is not essential for marriage [Zhang, 2016, p. 445]. The research conducted in China in 2005 showed among the 366 unmarried respondents 56 participants (15.3%) planned not to marry and 112 (30.6%) planned not to have children. Among the married with no children, 50% (111 out of the 221) did not plan to have children [Liu, 2005, p. 419].
41 In a 2011 survey in China, 60% of respondents chose childlessness due to the incapability to fulfill child-raising responsibilities and cover the childcare costs, 17% emphasized that they have too much stress and no time for children, 20% stated that they wanted to enjoy life as a couple (Fig. 4).
42

43 Fig. 4. Reasons for the Current Generation in China Preferring a Childless Marriage with a Dual Income (DINK). Based on Statista Research Department . URL: >>>> (accessed:19.04.2021).
44 Due to changes in the economic and social spheres of China, marriage has lost its importance as an economic institution. Men and women have become more independent, and children gradually ceased to be the basis of the family and no longer guarantee the stability of marriage.
45 Personal Development as a Reason for Childlessness
46 Many young Chinese choose to remain childless seeking better education, career prospects, and quality life. As in the developed European countries, individualization and self-development became significant for most of the modern Chinese youth. The tendency led to the postponement of marriage and fertility decline. The marriage rate of Chinese women between the ages of 20 and 34 has dropped from 75% in 2006 to 67.3% in 2016 [Yue, Choo, Lovell, 2019, p. 9]. The age at first marriage of females has simultaneously risen from 23.3 in 2000 to 25.4 years in 2016 (Fig. 5), and the age at first birth — from 24.3 to 26.9 years.
47

48 Fig.5. Age at First Marriage, China. World Bank. Based on URL: >>>> and URL: https://databank.worldbank.org/reports.aspx?source=311&series=SP.DYN.SMAM.MA (accessed:10.04.2021).
49 China witnessed an educational expansion and accelerated growth of the higher education system after 1999. Between 2000 and 2015, the proportion of Chinese entering tertiary education increased from below 10% to above 40%. The enrolment in tertiary education expanded from 23% in 2010 to 43.4% in 2015. The latest findings for China suggest among the cohorts born after 1990, more women than men are currently going to college.
50 In China, there is an evident educational gradient in fertility patterns: women with lower education have higher fertility compared with higher educated women [Djundeva, Pearl, Emery, 2019, pp. 149-157]. Women with high educational qualifications pursue personal development and career attainment. Pregnancy and breastfeeding distract them from work, which further delays first childbirth age [Yue, Choo, Lovell, 2019, p. 9]. For young graduates, having a good education and work is the prerequisite for independence and individual autonomy. In the new era, women are no longer willing to subordinate to men [Wu, Yin, 2019, p. 74].
51 China has high female labor participation of 61.5% [Yue, Choo, Lovell, 2019, p. 9], but the traditional concept of “caring for the family is solely a woman’s duty” is entrenched in China. Due to the high competition for jobs and lack of affordable childcare services, childcare is mainly undertaken by mothers whether in the workforce or not. Hours spent on household chores and child-rearing are done by women [Djundeva, Pearl, Emery, 2019, p. 150]. Nine out of ten “primary parents” of children below five are women. When conflicts between family and work occur, it is the woman who must give up the career aspirations to fulfill family needs. This iniquitous division of child-rearing and familial duties negatively affects many women’s fertility intentions [Yue, Choo, Lovell, 2019, p. 9].
52 The speed of economic growth in China has forged a culture lacking work-life balance. According to a 2015 large-scale survey [Family Development Report, 2016], parents who had decided not to have a second child reported that this was because of:
53
  • the economic burden (74.5%);
54
  • the extra work involved, on top of already stressful jobs (61.1%)
55
  • the insufficient childcare support system (60.5%).
56 Data of 2008 showed that in rural areas the female respondents gave a low childless rate at 30, which was only 5,8 % even among those born in the 1970s. The urban counterparts presented a comparatively higher childless rate at 30, which was 11,5% among those born in the 1970s [Zhang, 2016, p. 451].
57 Government statistics suggest that more than 85% of both male and female migrant workers — 1/3 of whom are at marrying age — work more than 44 hours a week, which leaves little time and energy to build a family10.
10. China’s Marriage Rate is Plummeting — And it’s Because of Gender Inequality. The Conversation. URL: >>>> (accessed: 13.02.2020).
58 Childlessness as an Opportunity to Maintain a Quality Life
59 Some Chinese decide for childlessness, regardless of financial issues. Most of the interviewed by Alpermann, Herrmann, and Wieland [2018] mentioned the desire to maintain the current quality of life or the fear of the changes. They describe their lives as carefree and relaxed and are satisfied with their current situation. Personal freedom has a special influence here: they appreciate being able to freely allocate time, money, and energy. They see a child as a fundamental limitation of freedom. The marital relationships and the quality of time with the spouse are crucial. A 44-year-old lecturer from a Beijing university describes a typical Sunday with her husband as follows:
60 “On Sundays, [my husband] sits on the sofa while I sit in front of the computer. For him, it is ideal to pick up a book, listen to music, and just sit there in peace from morning till night. Every time he will say to me: “Think about it, if we had a child, this would be impossible.” The time that other people spend on taking their children to all kinds of extracurricular activities, we spend at home like this. As far as we are concerned, that’s the best way to live. It’s what we enjoy most about not having children” [Alpermann, Herrmann, Wieland 2018, p. 53].
61 Some childfree are simply exploring alternative lifestyles — with or without a romantic partner. Cohabitation is increasingly commonplace. Then, there’s the sea of books, films and television series that portray other ways to live. For young Chinese professionals, who have access to modern entertainment, an enriched life can well be spouse and child-free11. Contrary to the common cliché of selfish, money and career-oriented DINKs, financial and professional aspects do not seem to be particularly important when it comes to deciding for childlessness [Alpermann, Herrmann, Wieland, 2018, p. 54].
11. China’s Marriage Rate is Plummeting — And it’s Because of Gender Inequality. The Conversation. URL: >>>> (accessed: 13.02.2020).
62 Dissatisfaction with the Environment for Children Upbringing
63 Many DINKs claim the decision to remain childless is responsible and saves a potential child from the hardships of life. Some childfree Chinese care about the environment and nature, saying “China is already overpopulated, and [they] don’t want to contribute to this problem12. Others are concerned about the political situation and propaganda, and the government’s control of fertility. DINKs emphasize it is “selfish” to make children live in the country with economic and pollution issues or raise them as “servants for one’s oldness”. One of the users of the Baidu Tieba forum writes:
12. DINK Bar. Baidu Tieba [丁克吧.百度贴吧]. URL: >>>> (accessed: 13.02.2020).
64 “DINK lead a peaceful life; they don’t hurt anybody. Their decision to have no children is kind. They don’t pollute the Earth and increase waste of resources. So, their lifestyle is basically green! Chinese are forced to follow ancient traditions because it is what they were told to do. They don’t have a free choice. And I think, a human being should have freedom to decide how to live!”13
13. DINK Bar. Baidu Tieba [丁克吧.百度贴吧]. URL: >>>> (accessed: 13.02.2020).
65 Voluntary childless are often dissatisfied with the Chinese education system a special feature of which is the rigid focus on exams (应试教育, yingshi jiaoyu). To survive in the highly competitive system and social competition, students not only have to go through a long and exhausting day at school but spend a large part of the evenings, weekends, and vacations with school assignments and extracurricular activities. The DINKs complain about the lack of free time and the enormous pressure to perform, which puts a strain on the students and are convinced that Chinese children cannot be happy in this system. In addition to the sheer volume of lessons, they also complain about the quality of the content that they find outdated and boring. They feel sorry for their fellow countrymen’s children that they must learn so many things that would be of no relevance for their later professional lives. The respondents state that they want to avoid exposing a child to the system and, thus, to the enormous pressure. Within China, couples see no alternative to regular education. The education systems abroad — in the USA or Europe — are perceived as positive. However, moving abroad is not an option for many Chinese due to financial reasons [Alpermann, Herrmann, Wieland, 2018, p. 56].
66 Financial difficulties play a fundamental role in voluntary childlessness. Sacrificing parenthood, the young Chinese hope to achieve greater stability in life and provide a decent old age for the parents. Nevertheless, some voluntary childless simply do not want children and wish to maintain freedom, prioritizing personal development. However, there are those who consider non-birth of children a manifestation of responsibility.
67 Why Is It Problematic to Be Childless in China?
68 Family Pressure
69 Filial piety occupies an important place in the culture and mentality of modern Chinese. From ancient times, reluctance or inability to continue one’s family lineage was criticized by society. Children were required to obey the parents in everything, including childbirth questions. In ancient times, infertile women experienced intensive social stigma and public scrutiny, were seen as bringing disgrace to the in-laws and extended family [Logan, 2019, p. 2].
70 Although China is acquiring more Western values and views on family structure, Confucianism is influential. Inability to produce a child is seen as marital instability and threatens marital bonds since children could serve as buffers to protect marriage from breaking down [Yao, Chan, Chan, 2017, p. 70]. Childless couples experience disapproval, discord in marital relationships, and poor relations with in-laws [Zhang, Liu, 2007, p. 188]. Soon after a couple gets married, parents from both sides are expecting grandchildren, pressuring newlyweds to hurry up with childbirth (Fig. 6).
71

72 Fig.6. A Couple Refusing to Have a Child. URL: >>>> (accessed: 18.01.2021)
73 Choosing childlessness, the Chinese prefer to postpone marriage or not to marry to avoid conflicts with parents. In a culture that puts great value on family, parents are alarmed by even the tiniest likelihood that the offspring remain unmarried and childless. Moved by traditional ideals, parents fear the breaking of family lineage, or that there will be no one to look after their unmarried children when they’re gone. While the traditional practice of arranged marriage has been illegal in China since the 1950s, parents remain heavily involved in their children’s marital decisions. Some go to “matchmaking corners” (Fig. 7), where parents gather to exchange information about their single children and arrange blind dates — often without the knowledge of or against the will of children.
74

75 Fig 7. Personal Ads are Posted on Umbrellas in the Marriage Market in Shanghai People’s Park. URL: >>>> (accessed 11.04.2021).
76 For many Chinese families, infertility is related to face loss [Yao, Chan, Chan, 2017, p. 74]. Unwillingness to have children affects dignity, reputation, self-esteem, and identity. Some couples give birth to a child to satisfy the parents’ desires, save face and avoid social stigmatization. Childless, who do not change their minds under pressure, often express sorrow for incapability to bring their aging parents the happiness of grandparenthood.
77 Social Condemnation
78 Chinese society is changing which is indicated by an increase in the number of divorces, couples living in cohabitation, and a rising amount of voluntary childless. However, such tendencies are not widely accepted. Despite that premarital sex and cohabitation become more acceptable and are not used as criteria for judging an individual’s moral character, values and beliefs about sex and marriage are deeply rooted in the Chinese culture and remain influential on people’s behavior [Xu, Xia, 2014]. Dating partners are careful and try to protect themselves and their families from losing face. Chinese family laws do not protect the rights of couples in cohabitation and children born to unmarried couples do not have the same rights and benefits in health care, childcare, and education as other children do. 2008 Chinese Family Values Survey reported only 11% of the participants believed that premarital sex was normal and 77% felt less secure in cohabitation than in marriage. Thus, the percentage of Chinese couples in cohabitation and without children are marginalized in China [Yao, Chan, Chan, 2017, p. 70].
79 Government Pressure
80 Witnessing the negative effects of the “One child policy”, aging population problem, and potential lack of the workforce in the future, the Chinese government started to implement measures encouraging people to have more children. Single people feel more government pressure than ever to get married, just as voluntary childless feel pressure to become parents. In the face of a potential aging crisis, China in 2015 relaxed its family planning policies nationwide. The Communist Party started to lead pro-marriage strategies, hoping for a new baby boom.
81 In 2016, the government canceled the extra seven-day honeymoon leave that had been granted to couples who married “late” (older than 25 years for men, and 23 years for women), hoping it would spur young people to marry and eventually, bear children as soon as possible14. In 2017, unusual strategies have occurred on the regional level. The China Association of Social Workers, which is backed by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, launched a Marriage Consumption Subsidy Fund to support newly married couples in Taiyuan, Shanxi province. The subsidies were granted to over 1000 couples to cover wedding ceremonies, home decor, honeymoons, household appliances15. In 2018, Xinhua ran an opinion piece by academics advocating for a tax on couples who do not have a second child, which caused a negative reaction from the public, and the tax was not introduced16.
14. China’s Marriage Rate is Plummeting — and it’s Because of Gender Inequality. The Conversation. URL: >>>> (accessed: 13.02.2020).

15. Shanxi Couples Receive Cash Subsidies for Getting Hitched. Sixthone. URL: >>>> (accessed: 11.02.2021).

16. Singles Tax’ Furor Highlights Sensitivity Over Pressure to Have More Children. Caixin Global. URL: >>>> (accessed: 11.02.2020).
82 Some worry such measures will turn coercive, with the authorities deploying an extensive family planning apparatus to encourage births. Officials once restricted population size through heavy fines, forced abortions, and sterilizations. Critics say that less invasive but still punitive measures would probably emerge gradually at the local level under the guise of other causes such as preventing sex-selective abortions. Several provinces have banned abortions after 14 weeks, and Jiangxi province in the south requires the signature of three medical professionals before the procedure can be performed. More provinces have put in place obstacles to getting divorced, including a test or mandated cooling-off period17.
17. Can China Recover from Its Disastrous One-Child Policy? The Guardian. URL: >>>> (accessed: 10.04.2021).
83 It is expected that the push towards having more children will negatively affect working women. Females already face significant difficulties in applying for jobs, despite labor laws and regulations prohibiting gender discrimination in employment. A 2017 survey done by a job search website 51job.com found, 75% of companies had become more reluctant to hire women in the wake of the relaxed two-child policy. Facing discrimination at work, women might be forced to give birth to a first or a second child18. China’s education and human resources ministries have ordered employers to stop asking female applicants about the marital status and plans for children that is a common practice19.
18. Faced with Falling Birth Rates, China Urges Citizens to Have More Babies. CNN. URL: >>>> (accessed: 11.02.2020).

19. Can China Recover from Its Disastrous One-Child Policy? The Guardian. URL: >>>> (accessed: 10.04.2021).
84 Emotional Side of Childlessness
85 How does it feel to be voluntary childless in China? The users of the Baidu Tieba DINK forum are often concerned by the emotional side of childlessness, expressing fear of loneliness and sharing emotional struggles related to the family or society condemnation. For many childless Chinese, the inability to meet the childbearing expectations of the parents gives rise to significant pressure and consequent psychological distress, particularly depressive symptoms [Logan, 2019, p. 1].
86 In contrast to the fears and prejudices of Chinese society related to childless elderly, the results of the survey of Zhang and Liu [2007, p. 190] on the emotional condition of the childfree elderly are not that pessimistic. 60% or more of the elderly, reported their lives are generally good or very good: they seldom or never feel fearful, anxious, lonely, or isolated. But one in four elderly persons reported he/she always or often felt useless with age. Over 1/3 of them sometimes have the feeling of becoming useless with age.
87 The childless elderly indeed are more likely to report feeling lonely or isolated than the counterparts with children. The research has shown that childlessness is not related to the feeling of loneliness. Living in cities, having a pension, and having access to decent medical services — all this reduce the chances of feeling lonely [Zhang, Liu, 2007, pp. 195-196].
88 Conclusion
89 Most of the voluntary childless belong to well-educated urban citizens who care about the quality of life, personal development, and wellbeing of the parents. They have different reasons for childlessness. One of the key factors derives from financial problems and a desire to lead a quality life. Chinese are forced to support aging parents due to the poor social security system. Some of them sacrifice parenthood to provide parents with better care. Lack of affordable childcare resources contributes to the decision for childlessness since many people do not have the means to ensure a happy life and good education for a child.
90 Another reason for no-childbirth is related to the desire for personal development. The improvement of the education system and economic situation in the country created new career perspectives, which led to the postponement of childbirth or even unwillingness to have children, resembling the second demographic transition that occurred in the West. Family values shifted and marriage lost its importance as an economic institution. Children are no longer a guarantee of financial stability of the family and carefree old age of the parents. However, some childfree made the life choice due to another variety of personal reasons: desire to live for oneself or dissatisfaction with conditions for children upbringing.
91 Voluntary childlessness is a new phenomenon for China, and society is not ready to accept it yet. Even though the Chinese are changing their attitudes to family structure, older generations condemn childlessness, forcing the children to childbirth. Communist Party contributes to the pressure on childless couples, promoting earlier marriages. The new policy which allows couples to have two children affect women who start experiencing more stress and discrimination at the workplace while they are at childbearing age. All these factors provoke negative emotions of voluntary childlessness and even lead to depression. Moreover, some voluntary childless are worried about old age and feelings of uselessness and loneliness. On the contrary to the negative expectations of society, aged childless can be happy and their emotional wellbeing and life satisfaction levels are similar to the emotional condition of old people that have children.

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