SHANGHAI Dec 3 In a dimly-lit arcade in
downtown Shanghai, shopkeeper Xia Zihan holds out a glinting,
yellow-glass carving of the fertility goddess Guanyin, a range
she says is starting to sell well after China relaxed its
single-child policy last month.
"Since the news allowing a second child, we've already asked
our factory to increase production of the Guanyin statues," said
Xia, adding she expected to see around a 10-20 percent increase
in demand for the figurines that cost around one thousand yuan
Beijing said last month it would allow millions of families
to have two children, the most radical relaxation of its strict
one-child policy in close to three decades..
With an estimated bump of up to 10 percent in the number of
births per year, the demand for maternal healthcare is bound to
surge, a lift for private hospital operators who are increasing
their share of China's gigantic healthcare market.
Healthcare providers like Singapore-based Raffles Medical
Group Ltd, Malaysia's IHH Healthcare Bhd and
U.S. healthcare firm Chindex International Inc already
operate in China.
"I think for the short-term we can expect some kind of
rebound of the fertility rate as women rush to have more babies
in the next few years," said Peng Xizhe, a demographics expert
at Fudan University in Shanghai.
The new rules, which will roll out gradually around China,
will allow couples in which just one parent is an only child to
have a second baby, part of a plan to raise fertility rates and
ease the financial burden of China's rapidly ageing population.
This would see an extra annual one million or so births on
top of the current 16 million each year, substantial in itself
but marginal when compared to China's near 1.4 billion
population. Still, the extra births are close to the number of
people in a city like Dallas, Texas.
The fertility market, especially at the value-end of the
scale, could see a short-term spike. The main demographic likely
to benefit from the policy change is urban mothers in their late
thirties, a group more likely to seek methods to boost their
chances of having a second baby, said Peng.
Some families will turn to Guanyin figurines,
fertility-boosting foods or China's $13 billion traditional
Chinese medicine (TCM) market to give birth quickly. Medicine
men who promise to ensure the birth of a boy child are also in
China's highly-fragmented TCM market is led by firms such as
Tasly Pharmaceutical Group Co Ltd and China
Resources Sanjiu Medical & Pharmaceutical Co Ltd,
which each have billion dollar-plus annual sales.
Analysts said the more mainstream market for
pregnancy-related supplements could receive a $40-50 million
"The two child policy could bring a wave of women having
babies, which would have a positive effect on our sales," said
Snow Jin, manager of a herbal store that sells ingredients for
"fertility soup" on China's eBay-like online market Taobao.
"Parents having a second child are usually older, and so
will likely have greater demand for fertility products."
The soup, filled with herbs such as Chinese angelica and
honeysuckle, as well as red dates, black beans and eggs, is
thought to help boost the chances of conception.
ABOUT A BOY
The increased demand will be focused on major coastal cities
such as Shanghai and Shenzhen, and will affect public sector
workers most, a demographic for whom the one-child policy has
traditionally been more strictly enforced.
"If the policy hadn't changed I would not have been able to
have a second baby. My husband isn't an only child and as I work
in the state sector, if I break the rules and have a second
child then I would lose my job," said Lily Cai, 30, a civil
servant in Shanghai who has a 16-month-old baby girl.
Cai said her husband and his family were keen to have a
second child, and have often said it would be better to have a
boy, a traditional preference in China.
"Almost all my clients are people looking to have a child.
Perhaps they've already had a girl, but now want to have a boy
to continue the family line," said medicine man Sun Daoguo, who
runs a Shanghai store. Parents pay up to one thousand yuan for
him to help raise the chances of a boy being born, he said.
Sun said he advises mothers-to-be on how to adjust their
feng shui, the traditional Chinese concept of balance between a
person and the environment, to increase the likelihood of giving
birth to a son.
More conventional medicines, over-the-counter supplements
and treatments such as In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) could also
see a surge in sales, although analysts said high-cost
procedures like IVF would see the least benefit.
"The increase in caring for older mothers will really raise
the demand on maternity hospitals and increase the strain on
doctors," said Jiang Peiru, head of gynaecology at one of
Shanghai's top hospitals. She said the clinic had prepared an
extra 40 beds, hired more staff and increased training.
"We haven't seen a clear rise yet, but next year and the
year after there will definitely be an increase as mothers look
for treatment due to the child-birth reforms."