Women living in Chinese cities are likely to come off worse as a result of the two-child policy, according to researchers speaking at London’s Southbank Centre.
Speaking at the China Changing Festival on Saturday, Mei Fong, author of One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment, said that discrimination from work and social pressures at home might leave Chinese women living in major cities at a disadvantage.
Pointing to a survey carried out by recruitment site Zhaopin showing that over 30% of women were demoted or took a pay cut after taking maternity leave, Fong suggested that employers with discriminatory hiring practices might be even less likely to hire women under the two-child rule, to avoid having to pay two lots of maternity leave.
Kailing Xie, a PhD researcher looking at how gender affects the life choices of middle-class Chinese women born in the 1980s, said that the young mothers she interviewed for her research were juggling many responsibilities. “They’re expected to keep their jobs and maintain their position in a competitive labour market (…) while also doing most of the childcare work and looking after parents and in-laws,” Xie said. She added that they might now face pressure from their families to have a second child, even if they don’t want to themselves. “People have said to me ‘before, I could point to the (one-child) policy. Now the pressure is on me.’”
It’s not all bad news though, according to Mei Fong. “Some provinces have been doing positive things, like increasing maternity leave allowances,” she said, highlighting the example of Fujian Province, which increased maternity leave allowance from 60 to 82 days in response to the policy.
In any case, Fong argued the effects of the two-child policy are unlikely to have such a dramatic effect as the one-child policy, because it is a case of encouraging people to have more children rather than restricting them. “This is more like the ‘please have one more child policy’,” she said. “Restricting how many children people can have is one thing, asking them to have more is another. It’s not something you can easily switch on and off.” Indeed, China’s birth rate has increased since the policy – by over 2 million in 2016 – but not as much as policy makers predicted.
China’s government first introduced policies on how many children people were allowed to have in the 1980s. In 2016, it changed its one-child policy to a law allowing people to have two children to tackle issues related to population ageing.