The Rich Get Families

Much has been written about China’s one-child policy that punishes married couples who commit the crime of multiple procreation. Forced abortions and jail time face most of China’s poor population who conceive a second or subsequent child. However, the nouveau riche have discovered that even in China’s supposedly classless society, money can buy them love, or at least its byproduct:

China’s new rich are sparking a population crisis by disregarding the nation’s one-child rule.
Under the controversial policy introduced in 1979, families face fines if they have two or more children. But rising incomes, especially in the affluent eastern and coastal regions, mean that more people can afford to pay to have as many offspring as they like.
According to a recent survey by China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission, the number of wealthy people and celebrities deciding to have more than one child has increased rapidly, despite fines that can be as high as 200,000 yuan (£13,000) for each extra child.
Almost 10 per cent of high earners are now choosing to have three children because large families are associated with wealth, status and happiness in China.

It’s a rather interesting change. In agrarian societies, children act as assets for the family business of farming, and the economics provide incentives for large families. In China, where the land workers do not own their farms, the need for children for economic purposes abates, with only the considerations of old age remaining for the couple, at least in economic terms.
Now the rich, who have no particular economic need for offspring, have turned babies into status symbols. As the Chinese government keeps flirting with market economics, they will find that their market distortions will create bizarre reactions like Pet Rock children. In this case, they have basically attached a price tag on multiple children, and some now can afford to pay it. Now a large family becomes a Rolls Royce in Chinese society, and the have-nots that find themselves unable to compete face sterilization and forced abortions instead of smiling children at home.
Authorities have now started to add costs to the status symbols. Along with the taxation that the rich can now afford, Chinese officials will start a shaming campaign. They will face sanctions at work if employed in civil service, and others will have their names publicized and declared ineligible for awards and honors. Those prices may not mean much for a society that clearly sees the ability to keep children as a status symbol and as a hypocritical dividing line between the classes in the Communist classless structure.
In the end, the Chinese have approached this problem from the wrong angle. The problem isn’t so much population as it is production. The artificial rationing of children is a response to an inability to produce in the Communist system. Up until they began to liberalize the economy, they could not produce enough to feed an expanding workforce. Had they given the people the opportunity to own their own land and control their own production, they would have never had a problem in feeding the offspring of their populace, and the Chinese would eventually have limited their own growth, just as the Western nations did during and after industrialization.
Instead, they implemented a top-down solution that has eventually exacerbated the difference between the rich and the poor, in the most personal manner possible. If the Chinese think they can solve that problem with even more top-down policymaking, they will find themselves very frustrated indeed.

3 thoughts on “The Rich Get Families”

  1. This actually may work out in China’s long-term favor, if the next generation is increasingly composed of the offspring of the productive class which drives China’s current economy. We can have good confidence that the children of the middle class will be educated and skilled
    It’s a better solution than paying the welfare class to have lots of kids

  2. You adverted to an important social and economic issue, Ed. There’s no social security in China. Elderly parents are supported by their son. A daughter joins her husband’s family, and has no support obligation for her elderly parents.
    That’s what’s been driving the “abort all daughters” movement in China. If you only can have one child, it had better be a son.
    If the rich can pay for more than one child, that will eliminate the massive abortions of girls now rampant in China.

  3. Well, a few points about the one-child policy. First of all, there are a lot of people who ignore it, mainly in the agricultural areas. While about half to two-thirds of my students are only children, there are many who have siblings, some who have a lot (four or five). This apparantly can have consequences.
    There’s an exception for couples who are both only children.
    There’s some kind of wiggle-room if you have a child born “overseas” – i.e. in Hong Kong. HK is currently screening entering Mainlanders, making sure that anyone 7 months pregnant or more has coverage.
    Party members are NOT allowed to have multiple children. These are generally well-educated professionals, but their careers are at risk if they have more than one child.
    Chinese people love their children, and they’ve got an advantage in that much of the child-rearing is handled (or at least assisted) by the grandparents.
    For status symbols, it’s mostly dogs. Little dogs, little status. Big dogs (St. Bernards, retrievers, sheepdogs), big status. “I can afford to feed this animal, and I have enough living space for it.”
    Of course, I may be wrong, but I think there’s enough social stigma that it’s not a big face-gainer to have a bunch of kids. At least not yet.

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