By Barbara Falconer Newhall
China’s one-child families may soon be a thing of the past. But for now, they are very real. Jon and I saw them everywhere during our trip to China in September.
The news from Beijing on Friday was, in part, that China is about to modify its drastic — but highly effective — one-child policy. Urban couples may now have a second baby if one of the parents is an only child.
Instituted in 1979 with the stated goal of solving economic, environmental, social and political problems, China’s one-child policy prevented somewhere between 100 and 400 million births
between 1979 and 2011 — the figures vary, depending on who’s counting. Whatever the actual count might be, the policy seemed very much in force as we visited China’s big cities in September: Adults with more than one child in tow were a rare sight.
Currently, Chinese national policy permits urban couples only one child, while exempting rural families, ethnic minorities and couples with no siblings. Twins and children with disabilities can also generate an exemption. The policy has led to gender inequality, with male offspring preferred over female, and a male-female ratio possibly as high as 120 young men to 100 young women in parts of China.
During our China trip, Jon and I heard again and again from our Chinese guides that life is expensive for the growing young urban middle class. Having a second child is not always
possible financially. The cost of living in cities is high, and paying for a child’s education takes a toll on the family budget.
We also learned that, where both parents are working, grandparents play an important care-taking role. Often they move in with the young couple or are provided a condo in the same building as their son or daughter — and grandchild.
Note: I’m pretty sure that most of the people I photographed were Chinese and were related to one another, but I had no way to verify my impressions.
Because the one-child families of China are in the news right now, I’m posting today, on a Monday, instead of my usual Thursday post.
For a story about what once happened in our two-kid American family, go to “When Kids Don’t Fight — Enough.” Read all about my thing for toys at “My Dirty Little Secret — I Can’t Say No to Toys.”