Many countries, most notably China, are worried about a ticking time-bomb—a demographic shift with the ageing population on the rise and fertility rates diving. China, as per a Bloomberg report, could soon end its restrictions on child-bearing in an attempt to correct this. Germany is already starting to look at child-bearing as a national security issue—there were nearly 120,000 more deaths in Germany than births in 2016, though immigration has more than offset this deficit. Hence, Germany is spending aggressively—it spent 45 billion euros in 2016 on child and youth programmes, most of it on day-care facilities. On the other hand, China currently has 241 million people aged 60 and above, or nearly 17% of its population. By 2050, they will number around 500 million. The oppressive one-child policy has given way to a two-child one, and even that restriction may go, but will just encouraging child-bearing reap China the desired results? “Baby bonuses”—incentives to couples to bear children—in Germany, Italy, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea caught the citizens’ imagination, but have made no dent on the demographic trend.
Countries like China, where social attitudes remain entrenched, may find it even more difficult to get a baby boom to happen, despite incentives. In China, unmarried, child-free women over the age of 27 are derogatorily called leftover women, even by officials. These attitudes have trickled down to the workspace where 43% of graduate women reported experiencing employment discrimination. Against such a backdrop, if companies were to hire less women because of “baby bonus” policies such as extended maternity leaves, maternity payouts, and mandatory day-care at the work-place, it will harm women’s employability. Given that most working age women, who are also fertile, will be the bread-winners for families that were forced into having only one child, it is possible that the baby bonuses may only backfire. China, and other countries looking to boost child-bearing, will do well to first enact and implement anti-discrimination laws—Sweden has already done this—that enable women to work and have children rather than just offer a host of “baby bonuses”