China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
In late 2015, the Chinese government announced to end the infamous one-child policy after three decades, henceforth granting every couple the right to have two children. However, recent reports have shown an underwhelming number of second-child births. Despite being eligible under the new regulations, many couples are reluctant to have more than one child. Multiple studies have identified various reasons for this trend, most notably the high cost of raising children in present-day China and a perceived incompatibility of family and career, especially for women. Conversely, despite their growing prevalence, people who refrain from having children altogether have mostly been left out of the debate. The study at hand attempts to fill this gap by taking a closer look at voluntary childlessness in contemporary urban China. Based on semi-structured interviews with ten voluntarily childless women and men, the paper gives insight into the motivations behind the couples’ decision against parenthood and the conflicts that arise from it, particularly in relation to their parents. It shows how the informants draw on both traditional and nontraditional principles to defend their childlessness, and how they frame their decision as a responsible choice in an environment of pressure and uncertainty. Ulrich Beck’s theory of forced individualization serves as the framework to make sense of the empirical results. The author seeks to demonstrate that voluntary childlessness in China has to be understood in the unique Chinese setting that is shaped by rapid economic development, remnants of Confucian values, state-imposed birth planning, and radical social change.