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Why working mothers in China don't want more babies

Why working mothers in China don't want more babies
Why working mothers in China don't want more babies


One of them leads a team at a financial company and earns more than her husband. Another pursues her dream of becoming a civil servant. A third is an aspiring influencer who aspires to become the breadwinner.

Every woman is raising a young child and doesn't want another, no matter what their husbands say or what incentives the Chinese government offers them, worried about an aging population.

The days of China's one-child policy are over. At a recent political forum, President Xi Jinping urged women to shoulder greater family responsibilities and play their unique role in promoting the traditional virtues of the Chinese nation.

These women see a different role for themselves. This generation was born into small families, with many girls growing up as only children and enjoying opportunities that were previously reserved for boys. Their own mothers, who did not have multiple children to support, generally worked outside the home and set an example for their daughters to do the same.

I have to have my own career.

Joyce Zhao, 29, project manager

Joyce Zhao had been working as a project manager at a small technology company in Beijing for three years and was waiting for a promotion. But when she became pregnant with her son Ming, her prospects dimmed.

Her boss, a woman who had advocated for her to be given a leadership role, left the team while Ms. Zhao was on five months of maternity leave. When she returned to work, her new boss told her she was late and needed to work harder.

I was in doubt, wondering if having a child at that time was not the right thing to do, Ms. Zhao said.

But, she says, she never thought about quitting her job and staying home.

I can only count on myself, Ms. Zhao. I have to have my own career and not give it up for anything.

A few months after Ming's first birthday, Ms. Zhao, 29, decided to leave her company and landed a job at one of China's largest technology companies.

Her husband would like to have a second child, but Ms. Zhao is not interested. His days are already exhausting enough. Her four-hour commute to work and long hours mean she gets home well after Ming's bedtime. She gets up at 6:30 a.m. to have an hour alone to read and exercise, and an hour to play and eat breakfast with her son.

After college, Ms. Zhao put aside her dream of becoming a civil servant to pursue a better-paying job. Today, having checked off marriage and pregnancy, she plans to prepare for the notoriously difficult civil service exam.

I divide my time, energy and money into different parts, saving most of it for myself, and then the rest goes to my parents, husband and son, Ms. Zhao said. I can't let them take all of me.

I don't see any advantage in having two children.

Guo Chunlei, 32, influencer

Before getting married, Guo Chunlei worked at a bank in the eastern city of Hangzhou, earning about $2,000 a month, a decent salary by Chinese standards. Her parents bought her a small apartment and a car, so she spent most of her salary on beauty, fashion and travel.

When she decided to have a baby in 2022, her husband and in-laws, who ran a growing family business in the construction industry, encouraged her to change careers to have more time to the child. Ms. Guo agreed and joined a listed company as an accountant. But the work was repetitive and unsatisfying, and she only made about a third of what she had previously.

The sharp reduction in wages has become an increasingly serious problem. As her daughter, Tianyi, grew up, expenses began to skyrocket. Pre-school classes alone took up a third of his salary.

In search of extra money and a goal to achieve, Ms. Guo opened a mom-influencer account on the lifestyle app Xiaohongshu last year. An article she wrote about planning a traditional Chinese birthday party for her daughter was viewed tens of thousands of times and opened the door to collaborations with brands.

She now spends weeknights writing captions, editing photos, and researching products. Photo shoots with Tianyi in nearby parks have become a weekend family activity.

Ms. Guos' account has amassed more than 10,000 followers and makes more money from product sponsorships than her day job. She plans to become a full-time influencer and would like to become the primary provider for her family.

Ms. Guo remembers how her own parents sacrificed to provide for her and her younger brother. This determined her to follow a different path.

I don't see any benefit in having two children, neither for me nor for Tianyi, she said.

I want to make something of myself.

Tang Pingjuan, 36, financial director

Like many Chinese workers today, Tang Pingjuan, 36, has higher expectations than many of the women who came before her.

Growing up under the old one-child policy, she received undivided attention from her father, a train conductor, and her mother, a teacher, she recalls. And like many girls of her generation, she had opportunities once reserved for boys.

When it came time to go to college, Ms. Tang traveled hundreds of miles from home to pursue a degree in mathematics, a male-dominated field. (Nearly a third of Chinese women now have a college degree, up from less than 1% in 1990.)

After graduating, Ms. Tang landed a job in finance and then, at age 25, took a year off and used her savings to travel to more than a dozen countries. Now 36, she leads a team at a private financial company in Guangzhou, the bustling metropolis where she lives with her husband and 4-year-old daughter, Ning.

Ms. Tang earns more than her husband and makes investment decisions for the family.

Six months after Ning's birth, Ms. Tang returned to her office, leaving the baby in the care of a grandmother. On weekends, the family likes to splurge on stays in luxury hotels.

Lately, she has been considering a promising job opportunity in the nearby city of Shenzhen, which may require her to be separated from her family. Her husband and in-laws oppose the decision, but Ms. Tang does not want to be held back. She hasn't completely ruled out the possibility of having a second child, she said, but it's not something she's considering at the moment.

I feel selfish putting myself before my family, but life is long and I want to make something of myself, she said.




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