China wants couples to have more kids. Chinese people are less enthusiastic.

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China’s shopping malls increasingly feature activity centers similar to this one in Beijing, where kids make cakes on Children’s Day on June 1, 2020.

Zhao Jun | China News Service | Getty Images

BEIJING — For many Chinese people, government restrictions have long ceased to be their main reason for not having more children.

That poses a greater challenge for Chinese authorities when trying to limit the negative effects on the economy from a decades-old policy restricting households to one child.

The central government announced Monday that each couple could now have three children, generating a buzz of online discussion — primarily on why it isn’t practical to have children, let alone three, in modern China.

More than 30,000 respondents to a simple online poll from state news agency Xinhua overwhelmingly said they weren’t considering having more children as a result of the new policy. The poll was soon deleted.

High education costs and insufficient support for maternity leave and retirement have contributed to a growing reluctance to have children. Loosening the restrictions to two children per couple in the last few years has done little to stall a drop in births, and keep a population of 1.4 billion people from aging rapidly.

The new policy is “completely inadequate to reverse the demographic decline,” Rory Green, senior China economist at TS Lombard, said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia.” He said structural changes, such as improving access to childcare, “are much more important than simply removing the numerical limit on the number of kids you can have.”

“One of the jokes online, after this (new policy) came out, was, ‘Why would I want to have another kid when I have to look after four elderly parents, already two kids and potentially nine grandchildren afterwards,” he said.

Marriage registrations drop

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Another major concern for Chinese couples is whether they can afford a house in a good school district, extracurricular courses and the many other costs needed to raise a child who they believe can then successfully get a good job in a highly competitive environment.

The frenetic rat race within what are often elite, narrow social groups in China has gained so much attention recently it has popularized its own term — “nei juan” — which The New Yorker magazine translated last month as “involution.”

Even before considering the question of children, fewer people are forming families. Marriage registrations in mainland China fell 12% last year, marking a seventh year of decline, according to data from Wind Information.

Too little, too late?

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