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October 31, 2011

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Couples say 'No way!' to having kids

CONFUCIUS said the worst kind of filial impiety was not having a child and procreation has always been put at the center of marriage. But today Dink (Double Income No Kids) couples are bucking tradition. Zhang Qian reports.

Attending big family dinners with all the relatives is a big headache for 31-year-old David He, especially since he got married two years ago. Whenever he shows up with his wife, all the middle-aged and older family members go up to them, one by one, and urge the couple to have a baby soon.

It's tradition, don't disappoint us. Have a child while you're young and energetic, have a child to carry on the family bloodline and name, have a child to care for you when you're old. Have a child because it's a woman's biological destiny and only a child will make you "complete."

It's always an ordeal to be lectured to and it's getting to feel like harassment.

Since they married two years ago, He and his wife Apple have been getting gentle and now insistent reminders that they have a duty to procreate, a responsibility to their family. They had decided not to have a child for economic and other reasons but remained quiet in the face of hints dropped by parents.

They made up excuses, for example, saying it was an inauspicious year for them to have a child, according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar.

After a while, when there was no pregnancy, they had to be clear: they did not want children.

Then the nagging started. Relatives decided it was their duty to step in and tell the young couple to have a baby. After all, Confucius said the worst kind of filial impiety was not to bear a male heir.

But He, who works as a factory workshop manager, is adamant.

He and his wife are among the small but growing number of Chinese couples flying in the face of thousands of years of tradition and choosing to remain Dinks (Double Income No Kids).

It is estimated that the world population reaches 7 billion today, with China still having the biggest population and India the second biggest, according to United Nations estimates. The 7 billionth baby is expected to be born in India.

Regardless of China's increasing population, Shanghai's population based on household registration has maintained negative growth since 1993, according to China's sixth national census results released earlier this year. Apart from natural population decline, resistance to marriage and having children among young people are also making Shanghai an older, grayer city. It will officially become a "gray" city by 2030, with 5-6 million senior citizens over 60 years of age, representing almost 30 percent of the total population.

Despite city policies such as ending the cash incentive for Dink families since 2004 and allowing couples from one-child families to have a second child, there are still an increasing number of young people choosing to stay Dink.

According to a survey of 600 young married couples carried out by the Shanghai Youth Research Center in 2010, 6.4 percent of them are willing to/want to/ be Dink.

The financial and emotional pressure of child rearing, the desire for personal career development and lifestyle preference are cited as the major reasons, according to the 2010 Shanghai Youth Development Report.

"I just cannot understand why it is so important to have a kid that I may possibly be unable to raise," says He, the Dink under pressure.

It is estimated that the average cost of raising a child to age 16 has reached 250,000 yuan (US$39,310) in big Chinese cities, and 480,000 yuan if education is included, according to a survey conducted by Xu Anqi of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences in 2004. And the cost is going up every year.

With a monthly salary of 4,000 yuan a month in a state-owned company and his wife's salary of 6,000 yuan at a job that is not secure, He says their incomes are not sufficient to rear a child properly.

"Having a baby means you have to face huge costs that you may not be able to afford and may not even anticipate," says He. "So, I would rather just have the limited income to maintain our own life quality at this time, and we can see that quality is constantly improving."

However, choosing Dink status means He and his wife have had to bear up under a lot of pressure.

Having children to care for one in old age has been a doctrine since ancient times, but many young people today say that thinking is outdated.

Alexander Xi, a 30-year-old marketing manager who married in 2005, is firmly against investing in children, though he is financially very capable.

"It is so old fashioned to raise a child for one's old age. In fact, raising a child today is a high-risk investment with possibly no profit at all. A child can easily die in a hundred ways, killed in an auto accident, poisoned by unsafe foods, or injured by fireworks in the street.

"I would rather just live for myself and enjoy each day without worrying about the safety of my child."

In his view, parents have to sacrifice too much for a child's growth financially, physically and mentally. There may be no reward or satisfaction if the child dies prematurely or becomes someone who is physically unhealthy, unsuccessful, or simply a bad person. It's just not worth the investment.

Older people have a different view.

"Children are the source of pleasure and bonding of the family; witnessing their growth will make you feel complete and satisfied as a mother," says 58-year-old Jiang Meizhen, who has been trying for the past two years to persuade her married 28-year-old daughter that a women without children is not complete.

But 42-year-old journalist Peggy Wang is still convinced that remaining childless was the right decision for her and her husband. For the sake of her career, she "sacrificed" what many people call a young woman's "golden years" for childbearing.

Wang had planned to have a child when she was in her early 30s, when both she and her husband were fully prepared financially and psychologically. But when she was 30, she had a promising opportunity for overseas study. She went for it, without hesitation, and when she returned to China she and her husband had decided on being Dink.

"I don't regret my choice. With all the problems of pollution, food safety and climate change, I just don't think it wise to have a child enduring those problems," says Wang.

Watching her friends stressed, financially strained and occupied by children's trifling issues every day, Wang is glad she can still have a say on how she spends her time and lives her life.

"Raising a child to become a success has become the only goal in life of many parents I see," she says. They push children at an early age to study music, painting, calligraphy and other subjects, and get them into good schools, spending so much time and energy on their children that they have little left over for their own pleasure and development.

"They feel proud of their children's achievements, thinking they are their own successes. I don't want to become that kind of women," says Wang.

Self-indulgence and disdain for procreation that prevail in big cities today are major reasons there's more support for Dink, according to sociologist Gu Xiaoming at Fudan University.

"Reproduction is a divine mission in any culture in the world, since that's the way our society develops and marches forward," he says. "Yet some people treat that divine responsibility as a simple business deal with considerations of investment and payoff. It's a disrespect to life."

To ensure healthy development of city and society, Gu says it's urgent to restore a sense of ethics and value, especially among young people.

"For those young people with this profit-loss view of children, it would be a disaster if they actually do have children," he says. "They could easily say they regret having children and ruin a child's life," he says.

Some Dinks are not so determined. Two years ago when she was 31, a diagnosis of blocked Fallopian tubes changed Laura Dong's Dink life.

"Though I firmly believed that kids ruin their parents' world and disrupt their life, knowing that in fact I could not bear children - I was not able to make that choice - was terrifying," she says. "I think that maybe deep inside me I was longing to be a mother some day."

After treatment, Dong got pregnant and gave birth to a daughter early this year.

"I knew for sure that there would be difficulties and burdens in raising a child but my mother told me there would also be joy I could not experience in any other way," says Dong.

Since traditional family values are so dominant, the number of dedicated Dink families is still small, even in the West, observes Huang Hongji, director of the Shanghai Youth Research Center responsible for the 2010 report on Dinks.


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