How to make three-child policy effective
China is implementing policies targeted at raising the fertility rate because it has been declining continuously for the past few years. On May 31, China further relaxed the family planning policy, allowing all couples to have up to three children.
Along with the falling fertility rate, China also has a rapidly rising aging population, which could affect the country's productivity and sustainable development in the long run. As such, the government needs to take measures to improve prenatal care and treatment and ensure women's job/career security, in order to raise the fertility rate.
Let me explain why. I have talked with four entrepreneurs and human resources managers recently, and all of them said they were reluctant to recruit women who planned to give birth, because the wages paid to female workers during pregnancy and the postpartum period, that is, when they are on maternity leave, are very high. One of the managers even said that companies were unwilling to employ women who plan to have a second child, let alone a third one.
Many couples today will not have a child until they have enough financial resources for the child's upkeep and education. Also, since women today have a stronger sense of independence, they are unwilling to be just a housewife. As a result, they have to play multiple roles at home and in the workplace and therefore don't have the time to raise a second or third child－some even refuse to have any children.
I interviewed three women, and they all said that having a third child would definitely deprive a woman of the time and energy needed to advance her career, because her employer could make her life more difficult by denying her due promotions. So it is not enough, they said, to just vocally oppose discrimination against women in the workplace; we also have to ensure that those employers who violate the rules are penalized.
A law should be enacted to ensure all sectors of society share the cost of childbirth. The 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) proposes to mitigate the costs of childbirth and raising children by improving maternity insurance, medical coverage and financial support for couples. In particular, maternity insurance has proved effective in promoting gender equality in the workplace.
Yet it is also important to adjust the maternity insurance policy in a way that it covers prenatal checkups and maternity leave for new mothers, and paternity leave for fathers, and remove the cap on the annual expenditure of maternity insurance so it can cover the wages paid to people hired, if needed, to do the job of employees on maternity or paternity leave.
As for health insurance, it is necessary to make it more convenient for senior citizens to claim reimbursement for medical expenses nationwide. One reason why many childbearing age couples are reluctant to have more kids is because they need their parents to take care of the young children. But many couples cannot ask their elderly parents to stay with them, because if the latter fall seriously ill away from their place of residence, they cannot get reimbursement for their medical expenses, which at times could be very high.
Financial support, in the form of subsidies, could provide some relief for the new parents. Tax exemptions for child and elderly care, too, could give new couples some monetary relief.
Besides, legislation alone cannot ensure gender equality in the workplace. All sectors of society including government, social groups and the media should work together to promote gender equality across the country. Only when women are guaranteed job security will they be more willing to give birth.
The author is a professor at the School of Law, China Women's University. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.