April 28, 2011 / 4:38 PM / 9 years ago

Policy or not, many urban Chinese only want one child

BEIJING (Reuters) - For many young Beijing parents, debate about China’s restrictive “one-child” policy is far less pressing than the task at hand — how to afford the cost of bringing up even one child.

A paramilitary policeman yells at a woman holding her baby as she stands next to the portrait of the former Chariman Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square in Beijing April 28, 2011. China's mainland population grew to 1.339 billion by 2010, according to census figures released on Thursday, up 5.9 percent from the 1.265 billion at the last census in 2000, and lower than the 1.4 billion population some demographers had projected for the latest count. The Chinese government's strict controls on family size, including a one-child policy for most urban families, have brought down annual population growth to below 1 percent and the rate is projected to turn negative in coming decades. China's choke on family size to usually one child in cities and two in the countryside now threatens its economic future, many demographers have said, with fewer people left to pay and care for an increasingly graying population. REUTERS/David Gray

China’s census released on Thursday should make for stark reading for policymakers, showing more old people and fewer young people to pay for them, the result of three decades of policies aimed at slowing population growth.

While the government enforces the policy unevenly these days — urban couples who are themselves single children are permitted two of their own, for example — policy makers have shown no intention of abandoning it.

Yet with ever-rising costs in cities such as Beijing, the question for many is not whether they want another child but whether they can bear the cost.

“I can’t even get this one into kindergarten,” complained housewife Li Tong, 29, out walking with her three-year-old son in Beijing’s fashionable Sanlitun shopping district.

“Education is a real concern for us. I have many friends who don’t want children at all. One is enough for me.”

Like the residents of Hong Kong and Singapore, which have among the world’s lowest birthrates, China’s urbanites are starting to believe that the expense of maintaining larger families outweighs the benefits.

That’s the view of Wang Gui, 35 and father of a four-year-old boy.

“We actually would like another, and according to current rules we can,” said Wang, who works for one of China’s state-owned oil giants. “But I think the cost would be prohibitive. It’s too much pressure to expect us to cope with.

“I do think the policy should remain, however. Those people in the countryside would just pop out babies left, right and center if given a chance, and we as a country don’t have the necessary resources.”

Many economists have forecast that China’s headline consumer inflation will accelerate to over 6 percent in the second quarter, from 5.4 percent in March.

And as China’s economy has boomed, infrastructure has struggled to keep up despite the billions of yuan invested in roads, railways, schools and hospitals.

“China has too many people, we have too much pressure on housing and transportation,” said Zheng Xing, 26. “I will have only one child. I cannot afford a second financially. Inflation is so high, everything is expensive and income is limited.”

Still, as China’s population gets better educated and more worldly, debate about the one-child policy has grown.

“It should be up to the individual to decide. It’s no business of the government’s,” said Wang Hui, sweating under a layer of heavy make-up and false eyelashes as she chased her daughter in front of an up-market mall.

“I don’t want her to be lonely growing up. Maybe one more would be good.”

Dorris Ma said she could not wait to have another child.

“I want to have a second child if policies allow. One family one child — that’s not good for the psychological development of the child.”

Editing by Don Durfee and Ron Popeski

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