I like every one to meet the future leaders of China. The first generation born under the one child policy, the 80 hou, post 80s, the little emperors and empresses. They will be leading China in just about 10 years’ time.
So the world often asks, what does the future hold for China? Will there be a major shift in paradigm, in mentality? Will the transition be smooth? or probably be smooth?
Well, they may fail to realize, that the biggest change, potential discontinuity is going to occur. When power is transferred to that generation, radically different, cyber connected, hyper educated, global citizens of the world. So today 70% of Chinese youth is online. They live to combine information. We sent about 400 thousand students aboard to get a foreign degree every year. They are open minded. They also have some peculiar consumption habits. The speed with which they are ready to weep out their credit cards, or their parents’ credit cards, is uncanny. They will turn China from being a global seller, to global buyer.
So change is going to happen because they will be on stage. And so the world should just be more relaxed because of it. But there is something peculiar about the only child generation.And it’s not because China has changed so much, not just because of it. It’sbecause it’s special unique products of the one child policy.
So, I am a, you know 80 hou, post 80s, only child. I am also an academic economist. So I thought well I better study this subject matter a little bit more, thinking that I have some first-hand information or first-hand insight. And so my French coauthors and Ihave found that there are some unintended but pretty significant consequences to the one child policy. Of course apart from the main goal, which was to reduce population growth, which was a successful act.
The first thing that we have found is that it led to an accelerated human capital accumulation. But the story is very simple. The reason is simple. You used to have many children, 3 or 4 in urban areas, and now you can only have one. So, 96 percent of urban householdson average have just one child. So when parents trade in quantity, they are going to raise their quality, which is why every one of us got a lot of education investment.
So did you know that actually about 25% of household expenditure every year, on average, is spent on educated one child, one teenager, one only child. 25 percent goes into education. But if you look at twins. OK, twins born under the one child policy——luckily you are allowed to keep your twins, the twins get only about half that much when it comes to their teenage years. So this makes sense. The fewer children you have, the more education investment they got. So in fact, China’s GDP per capita is still pretty low; it ranks 90th something, on the same level of Albania. But its higher education attainment has surpassed many rich countries.
Second unintended consequence: it’s a golden era to be a Chinese woman. Why? The reason is simple. We are daughters. So we are raised as an only daughter? But we are also raised as a son. Education has become gender blind. You are going to educate your child no matter whether it’s a daughter or son. So the result, after the one child policy in the 80s, the higher education attainment rate between boys and girls closed.The gap closed. And in fact the returns to schooling for girls are now actually higher than the returns to schooling for boys in China. So women are much more educated.
But not only are Chinese women more educated, they also have greater bargaining power. And the reason is that the large gender imbalance.
For now, it’s about, you know, every 117 little boys being born, there’re only 100 girls. So the large gender imbalance, arguably believed related to the one child policy, has led to ascramble for wives. And also research has shown that families start to save, families with son start to save a lot, in order to raise eligibility of their son in the marriage market that’s become increasingly competitive. So everyone is saving for the son. And competition of saving blitz more competition of saving. So I was thinking, now it’s probably better to have a girl now, right? You know, we used to have this mental bias for having sons. It’s probably better to have girls now. Because everyone else is saving for you
So these is the unintended positives of the one child policy. And, these things are going to help ease a bit of the economic challenges that China will be facing in the next ten years.But there’s a darker side to this as well.
I am sure everyone has been aware of the recent suicides that have swept across the country. Jumping out of the window has become a popular activity among the Chinese youths. 13 year-old jumps out of the window because his mother is going to have a second child. 13 year-old jumps out of the window because he is criticized by his teachers. Highschool student jumps out of the window because he and his parents could not agree on the major he is going to take when he goes to an American university. It’s become so common place that new schools being built around, are built into cages: no possible room for jumping out activities. But what this reveals is that there is a common problem that we all share, differences only to a matter of degree, and that problem is this enormous psychological pressure
Pressure not only to perform, but pressure to cave into our parents’ wishes and desires, which are often in conflict with our own. Now the world sees us as selfish, spoiled, ego centric, but they don’t see the hidden price behind being only child. The steep hidden price behind the love and attention, and care, that our parents never failed to remind us of all the time. And that price is that the destiny is often not in our own hands.
Because on the one hand, we are allured by this modern way of life: the modern way of thinking, the opportunities to which we have access now. In large part thanks to our parents.On the other hand we feel obligation and duty. We are only child. We have no siblings among whom we can share that burden, to free ride off. We feel the pressure to answer to their wishes.
And they will tell you, we know what’s best for you. The parents will tell what’s best for you. We’ve been through this hardship. We know about life. Be practical. Don’t take too many risks. They tell you: don’t study literature, study finance; go get a foreign diploma, but hurry back home and stay close; do not have a girlfriend or boyfriend in school because that’s too distracting for work; get your degree first, find a stable job and then contemplate dating. But by the time you are in your mid twenties, you better be married with a child on the way because otherwise you are doomed. So this leave us about one year? To find our life’s soul mate?
Girls, be number one, always, everytime. So there we go. We get our degrees. I have a PhD from Harvard. My friend away here has a master’s from Stanford. And there is, you know,北外(Beijing Foreign LanguageUniversity)，清华(Qinghua University)，北大(PekingUniversity). All these girls get these degrees, and then they tell us, oh but you are only girls in the end, do what you have to do: settle down.
So the golden era that Iillustrated you for Chinese women is only up to the point at which you get your fancy degree and then we are back to the starting line. There is a mismatch,don’t you think? An evolutionary mismatch between society that has changed and the values that have remained outdated? I mean for all the tiger mothers that we’ve got, and I know you have one too. They push us to the extreme. They equipus with a world class education. And they send us to this school and that school to get this skill and that skill. And in the end they are convinced that we are incapable of making our own decisions, making the right choices. So then, what’s this education about? What’s the use of tiger mothers if they in the end themselves don’t believe in the products they carefully crafted.
Now, I am an only child. I left home when I was 14 to study aboard. My parents gave up everything so that I could have a bright future. They are everything to me and I am absolutely everything to them. But I face the same struggle as all of you. And the struggle is duty to family, responsibility to myself. But I realized a whileago, that because of this generational gap, probably the largest we have seen in Chinese history, that only I knew what was right for me. Only I knew the life that I wanted to lead, the values that I cherished, and the moral code that I wanted to adopt.
You see the world is bedazzled by China’s numbers. The numbers that are attached to the country, that has seen economic growth, besides its GDP, progress. But behind this figures and numbers, it’s a national sickie that they may fail to comprehend. And it’s asickie that’s as important as the institutions and system that has underpinned China’s progress.
So tomorrow, China tomorrow, is going to be in large part shaped by the sickie of our generation, our ethers,our values, and our attitude in life. China’s tomorrow is really you. You will be pushing the artistic frontier. You will be creating China’s global image, you will be China’s pace maker. Now there are wonderful things in our culture and tradition that we must preserve. Confusion values and code of ethics that we must revitalize. But we, and the world needs leaders from China who can think for themselves, take responsibility in their actions. Be creative not just pragmatic. You are an only child, but you cannot lead China as if we were one too.But you must find siblings in the form of our African brothers, our European sisters.
But way before that, you need to rise above that pressure, no matter how difficult it is for current society to understand. You need to put destiny back in your own hands.