Under China’s family-planning regulations, most couples are barred from having more than one baby. Wang Hong and her husband, Zhang Jingfeng, are among those who were granted a second chance — and decided against it.I can testify that this is consistent with what my students and other faculty members at Xiamen University told me in 2007. They believed that the only road to financial prosperity was to limit their families to one child. The one-child policy didn't come into it. Of course, these were urbanites, and the answer might still be different in rural China.
Instead, they have marshaled their resources behind their gregarious 9-year-old son, devoting two-fifths of their yearly income of 20,000 renminbi, or about $3,000, to send him to private school.
“I have to create good circumstances for him,” said Ms. Wang, 33, whose sparsely furnished home is heated by a wood stove. “If I had another child, what would our living circumstances be like?”
Ms. Wang’s reasoning underscores an argument voiced with growing insistency by demographers who want China to abandon its one-child restrictions: like the couple in Yicheng, they argue, most Chinese want only one child anyway.
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But as calls for a relaxation of the policy intensify, and official hints of looser restrictions increase, so do concerns that the one-child culture is now so ingrained among Chinese that the authorities may not be able to encourage more births even if they try.
A growing body of research suggests that much of the decline in Chinese fertility over the past three decades is not a result of the one-child policy and its various permutations, but of the typical drop in birthrates that occurs as societies modernize.
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The trend appears to be the same in Jiangsu, a coastal province north of Shanghai. Researchers interviewed nearly 4,400 women who were eligible to have two children. Fewer than one-third of the mothers with one child said they either wanted or might want a second, according to a 2009 study published by the journal Asian Population Studies.
In Shanghai, so many eligible couples have decided against a second child that in 2009, population workers started making home visits to try to change their minds. Cai Yong, a demographer at the University of North Carolina, said that Shanghai’s and Beijing’s fertility rates were both estimated at 0.7 per woman — fewer than one child per couple, and half what many demographers estimate is the national childbearing rate.
All this suggests that there may not be much China can do to manipulate the number of births.
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