Wary of changing demographics, Chinese authorities recently relaxed the country's controversial one-child policy
Fewer couples than expected are taking up applications for a second child
The financial burden of another child is often cited as a main reason for not taking advantage of the policy change
A year ago, China relaxed its controversial one-child policy, allowing couples to have a second baby if the mother or father was an only child themselves.
It was hailed as a major liberalization of the three-decades old restriction, but new figures suggest that fewer people than expected are taking the plunge and expanding their family.
Nationwide, nearly one million couples eligible under the new rules have applied to have a second child, state media reported on Monday.
It’s estimated that 11 million couples are eligible for additional children, and health officials had said that the policy would lead to as many as two million new births when the policy change was first announced.
In the capital Beijing, around 30,000 couples have submitted applications for a second child, fewer than the 50,000 expected, state news agency Xinhua reported.
The situation in other cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen is similar, it added.
Many parents feel like Beijing resident Eason, a father of a three-year-old who fears the financial burden another baby would bring. He declined to give his full name.
“Raising our only child is already taking up a very significant part of our expenditure,” he said. “Having another baby would cost more for their education, housing, and such.”
“Taking care of only one child is very energy-consuming for the two of us and our parents.”
Others, like Zhang Li, are going ahead with plans to get pregnant but face opposition from family members.
“My parents are strongly against us having a second baby. They think it will bring much more financial obligations. Plus, no one will have the time and energy to take care of the newborn,” she told CNN.
Attitudes like these worry demographers, who warn that China faces the prospect of growing old before it gets wealthy enough to look after its elderly.
Many think China should scrap its birth control policy entirely to ensure the country has enough workers to support an aging population. There have been reports that this might happen as soon as 2016.
“Long term demographics are a concern. China is sometimes compared with Japan, where economic problems have in part stemmed from demographic trends,” said Brian Jackson, a Beijing-based economist at research group IHS Global Insight.
Perhaps China’s leaders are hoping that parents are simply putting their baby-making plans on hold until fortunes are a little more assured.
The upcoming Lunar New Year, which begins in February, marks the Year of the Sheep in the Chinese Zodiac; “sheep babies” are traditionally believed to be meek and encounter bad luck.
CNN intern Sherry Fei Ju in Beijing contributed to this report