Human Rights

As China faces plummeting population, many young adults refuse to have children

As birth rates plummet in China, many young adults are seemingly doubling down on their decision not to have children — so much so that they’ve taken to calling themselves the “last generation.”

According to The Guardian, the term was originally coined by a young man who refused to be taken into a quarantine camp. Police warned him that his refusal would affect his family for three generations; he responded, “We are the last generation, thank you.”

That phrase quickly went viral, and the hashtag #thelastgeneration was used millions of times before being censored by the Chinese government. But the sentiment still lingers.

“This resonated deeply in me,” Kongkong, a 26-year-old, told The Guardian. “I bought a T-shirt with ‘We are the last generation’ written on it. I cannot bring a child into this world to let him suffer.”

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The fertility rate in China has become catastrophic, with deaths outnumbering births for the first time in 60 years, largely as a result of the notorious, decades-long One Child Policy. Though it was lifted in 2015, the consequences have not been so easily reversed. Pregnancy discrimination, for example, is still extremely common, and there is a massive gender imbalance due to the country’s cultural preference for boys. And women are still reluctant to give up their lives for what they see as something that isn’t worth the sacrifice.

“It costs too much to give kids a decent life,” Kongkong said. “The stuff they teach at school is propaganda, so I’d want to send them to an international school or abroad. But I can’t afford that.”

The pandemic seemingly only made things worse, as young adults saw how “undesirable” children were treated. “I heard that some hospitals refused to treat children who couldn’t produce negative test results,” a woman named Eunice said. “The pandemic brought on a strong feeling of uncertainty. Having children is not something I’m considering now.”

China’s population decline has come on much more quickly than experts predicted, and it doesn’t appear to be turning around. A survey of over 20,000 people found that two-thirds had “low birth desire,” making the prediction of a “last generation” a painful reality.

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