Debate emerges over college students raising children; Chinese demographers call for more open-mindedness
Published: May 23, 2023 02:28 PM
Children ride hoverboards
at a kindergarten in
Nanjing, capital of East
China's Jiangsu Province on
April 21, 2023. Photo: VCG

Children ride hoverboards at a kindergarten in Nanjing, capital of East China's Jiangsu Province on April 21, 2023. Photo: VCG

Getting married and childbearing in college is not something unusual in the modern world, but a student raising a child on campus still being a holder of multiple scholarships is mind-boggling.

Smiling and a sense of happiness can always be seen on face of Xiaoli who is now in her college senior year from Southwest China's Guizhou Province when she brought her suckling child in her dormitory and had her roommates playing with the infant or spent leisure time around her campus. 

Seemingly she is able to handle the child-raising, a heavy work in nature while not letting her study fall behind. She was even awarded with university scholarship and national ones for high grades in study.

Xiaoli posted about just 10 videos on her social media account about her child-raising student life in university, but it has already made her story one of the most-discussed controversial subjects in the country. 

Some netizens are amazed at how the 23-year-old is able to be a mom while being a student with good grades at the same time, exclaiming that's "a coolest life that they ever saw." 

But some criticized raising a baby at an age when normally even they could not figure out whom themselves are, is merely irresponsible. Others argued Xiaoli's story should not be encouraged considering the costs of raising a child in the country, not to mention for a student.

More open-mindedness

Getting married and bearing a child at an appropriate age has always been a reasonable option for university students since a regulation on university students by the Ministry of Education in 2005 has scrapped previous requirement that an approval must be obtained from their university when they register for a marriage. 

Though getting married and having a child is an option for marriageable students, the average age of young generations to enter into their first marriage has actually been gradually moving back over years. 

A report on China's population development was released by the YuWa Population Research think tank last year showed comparing with other countries China has the highest legal age for marriage, with male in their 22 and female in their 20. But the average age of first marriage in China is 28.67, the data a decade ago was 24.89, according to "China Census Yearbook 2020" released by the National Bureau of Statistics in June 2022.

"In Chinese society, the mainstream cognition on marriage tends to link with personal career. For students who have yet financially independent, getting married and even raising a child is not a common option for Chinese college students," Song Jian, a demographer from the Center for Population and Development Studies of the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times. 

The fact that Chinese students usually live in dormitory in some way also restricts them to consider having a child on campus a top priority in their study time. Some other obstacles are natural difficulties to balance a heavy study load and raising a child, Song noted.

But Chinese students still value marriage. A survey result showed that university students believe that having 1.86 children in a family would be ideal, and more than 80 percent of them believe two children are ideal as part of their future family.

However, the average number of children actually sought by college students themselves in the future in this survey was 1.36, and nearly 50 percent of college students wish to have less than two children.

The gap - between the ideal number of children and the desired number of children - mirrors the obstacles and reluctance of young generations to have children, Li Ting, a professor at the School of Sociology and Population Studies, Renmin University of China and lead author of the controversial survey, told the Global Times. 

To boost fertility rates among young people, at this year's two sessions, a Chinese political advisor suggested making available birth insurance services to Chinese college students.

Society should provide more support to students with master and doctoral degrees to arrange their marriage properly, such as allowing them to alter their study schedule, and offering financial assistance and allowing them to enjoy birth insurance and medical allowances, He Dan, director of China Population and Development Research Center, who is also a member of the 14th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), noted in the proposal.

Official data showed in 2021, a total of 125,800 doctoral students were enrolled, 509,500 were studying and 72,000 were graduating.

"For the young generations, getting a job, building a family and then getting married usually overlaps with each other in a short period of time. If the university or the society could ramp up efforts to help students who have the desire to realize their marriage in university, I don't think it is a bad thing," Song noted. 

"But I won't say getting married and raising a child in universities is an act should be discouraged or encouraged. We just need more open-mindedness to accept that it is one of available options for college students," Song said. 

"What the country can do is able to clear the way for students who would like to get married and have a child in their college through some policies, but down to earth, getting married and bearing a child boil down to personal choice," Yuan Xin, a professor of demographics from the School of Economics at Nankai University told the Global Times. 

A commentary piece by the Beijing Youth Daily proposed to provide some convenience to students who opt to get married and bear a child in university, such as allow those students to choose fewer lessons or receive a gap year so as to reduce their pressure. 

The greater the independent choice space for students, the more diversified the learning and growth of college students will be. In a pluralistic environment, public opinion will no longer make a fuss about college students getting married and having children, the commentary noted.

For Xiaoli, she believed raising her child while studying is a rational decision for her to make. "I got married legally and having a child is a normal. Childbearing in college was a decision supported and blessed by every member of my family." 

"I'm not from a rich family but my husband can take good care of us financially. Grandmother of the child also helps me take care of my child." 

Xiaoli said she has never regretted her choice, but she does not encourage others to follow her way of living. "We're not running everything in a smooth way. But life is ours. I go for it when I believe I can handle it, no matter how others see it."