Incentives needed to motivate women to have more children

By Jin Yong’ai Source:Global Times Published: 2018/6/4 23:33:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The continuing low fertility rate is a major challenge for China. Only one-third of women in their childbearing age, who have had one child, plan to have a second baby, according to two recent regional surveys conducted by the Center for Population and Development Studies at Renmin University of China. The lack of desire to produce children has been common.

An average of 2.1 children born per couple is required to achieve intergenerational replacement level, which is important for stable development of the population. But this is a hard target to reach in China. Removing all policy limits can hardly solve the problem.

The economic pressure of childrearing and lack of access to childcare resources are the two major factors that stop families from having a second child. Currently, the birth-friendly family policy is fragmented, decentralized and even absent. The supporting policies are insufficient. Many people wish for larger families but are afraid to go for it.

Building a birth-friendly environment can help tackle the issue.

First, a government-led and community-based public childcare system for kids under 3 needs to be established.

Currently, most families rely on grandparents or nannies to take care of their kids. There are few nurseries to cater to the demand. Couples, especially women, find it difficult to balance work and childcare at the same time. The high cost of childrearing leads to low desire to have babies. Thus, it's urgent to provide infant and toddler care services. Resources have to be mustered to carry out family support projects and build affordable nurseries near residential communities.

The nurseries can be run as public-private partnerships for better functioning. If they are administered by the private sector, efficient management techniques should be introduced.

Qualified employers should be encouraged to open nurseries and kindergartens with preferential treatment. Enterprises should also be encouraged to cooperate with neighboring communities to provide childcare services for their employees. The employers should also let mothers have some leeway to breastfeed and visit the baby.

Second, maternity leave needs to be institutionalized. Surveys found that some employers still have discriminatory policies and give workers shorter maternity leave for the second child than for the first one. Government departments should regulate such behavior and urge enterprises and institutions to implement policies to protect workers' reproductive rights and interests.

Research in developed countries shows that parental leave can promote the desire to have children. We can introduce paid and unpaid parental leave. In order to ensure enterprises' high productivity and competitiveness, and reduce losses, public finance should provide subsidies to enterprises.

Third, systematic family support policies are necessary to improve welfare of families. In the surveys, more than 70 percent women said that the country's maternity subsidies will motivate them to have larger families. China needs to improve social security policies on child birth, childcare, child development and education. Through maternity subsidies, tax incentives, family allowances and housing guarantees, the financial burden of raising children can be reduced.

Fourth, it is essential to incorporate gender equality into family policies.

Looking at the connection between fertility and family policy in European countries, low gender equality will reduce the motivation to have babies. Therefore, work-life balance is not just for women but a joint responsibility of both parents.

The surveys show more than half of women believe the guarantee not to be dismissed from their jobs due to maternity-related reasons can motivate them to have a second child. In fact, because of the maternity issue, women face discrimination - explicitly or implicitly - in the labor market, and their career is often affected. They struggle to strike a balance between family and work.

In addition to special legislation to protect women from discrimination, we should pay attention to husbands' family responsibilities. Paternity leave should be ensured to promote greater involvement in the housework and child care. A flexible maternity leave transfer system can be implemented to allow women to turn over part of their leave to their husbands, and encourage them to take maternity leave.

The author is an assistant professor of Center for Population and Development Studies, Renmin University of China.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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