Huang Yulong never wanted a child. As a child, he was angry with his parents, who left him in the care of relatives while they worked in remote factories, only visiting him once a year. He never felt the need to reproduce or pass on the surname.
So, at age 26, he had a vasectomy.
“For our generation, having children is not a necessity,” said Huang, who is single and lives in Guangzhou, a city in southern China. “Today we can live without carrying burdens. Why not invest our spiritual and economic resources in our own lives?
At 27, Huang wants to achieve a lifestyle known as DINK – “Double Income, no Kids”, which refers to couples without children and in which both have income. The acronym has been around for decades, but it is only recently that it has become widely used in China, a country where the rising cost of living and other economic problems are causing many young people to avoid having children. The conflict over schools and apartments has intensified. Some couples say they don’t want more than one child. Others don’t want it.
This way of life comes up against the effort launched by the Chinese government to avoid the demographic crisis that is looming on the horizon. On Monday (31), Beijing announced a further review of its family planning policy, now allowing families to have three children instead of just two. The ad was meant to encourage couples to have more children, but men like Huang say they’d rather not have children, even have surgery to do so.
Huang’s decision to have a vasectomy may seem extreme, but demographers have long warned that the growing number of Chinese choosing not to have children is the main reason the country’s population is shrinking. According to the last census, while in 2010 households averaged 3.1 people, that number has now dropped to 2.62.
In addition to Huang, The New York Times spoke to two other Chinese who had vasectomies. Both have requested that their full names not be used for confidentiality reasons as some of their family and friends are unaware they have had the operation.
In Chinese patriarchal society, opting for voluntary sterilization is still considered a cultural taboo, especially for single boys. In many cities, doctors require proof of marriage and spouse’s consent before performing the procedure. (The doctor asked Huang before the operation if he was married and had children. He lied when he said yes.)
Most Chinese have heard of sterilization in the context of the government’s previous family planning policy, adopted during a period of rapid economic expansion, which limited each couple to one child. Although many more women have been forcibly sterilized during the one-child rule period, in rare cases, men have also been vasectomized.
The government’s announcement this week allowing couples to have three children represents the latest effort to reverse some of those practices, but now some men are pursuing vasectomy on their own. The reason, they say, is that they want to share the burden of contraception with their partners because they both want the DINK lifestyle.
Jiang, 29, is a personal trainer and lives in Fujian Province, southern China. He said he had tried having a vasectomy in six hospitals, but was rejected by all. The reason for the refusal was that he was unable to produce a “family planning certificate”, an official document indicating the person’s marital status and the number of children they have.
“They just refused to see me and said, ‘Because you are single and have no children, you openly contradict the country’s birth policy,” Jiang said.
The Chinese have been conditioned for decades to have children by tradition, by filial duty and, ultimately, as a guarantee when they reach old age. But the expansion of the social safety net and the proliferation of insurance schemes have opened up more options for people.
Today, China has the largest number of singles in the world. In 2018, there were 240 million singles in the country, or 17% of the total population. Although the percentage is still low compared to the United States, the number of singles has increased by a third since 2010.
“Young people today are not as able to endure harsh living conditions as older generations were,” said He Yafu, a freelance demographer from the southern city of Zhanjiang. “Many people think not only that their children will not take care of them when they are old, but that on the contrary, they will remain dependent on them. Better to save more money and live in a retirement home for peace of mind, or take out insurance.
Commenting on the new policy of three children per couple, a government spokesperson said on Monday that Chinese born in the 1990s only wanted 1.66 children on average. That’s a 10% drop from people born in the 1980s.
According to a 2018 study published by the Journal of Chinese Women’s Studies, the direct economic cost of raising a child from birth to 17 years old is about $ 30,000, or seven times the average annual salary of Chinese people.
Huang, 24, is a computer science graduate student from Wuxi City. He met his potential partner, a 28-year-old woman, on a DINK forum. “I keep telling her about the high and frightening cost of childbirth for women,” she said.
After admitting to his classmates online that he was worried about having children, one person responded to Huang by suggesting that he have a vasectomy. Huang underwent surgery last November in Suzhou City. He said he contacted six hospitals before finding a doctor willing to offer the procedure.
Huang’s retirement plan involves emigrating to Iceland or New Zealand, countries that have relatively strong social safety nets. He calculated the number of years that a child can perform his branch functions – “ten years” – and concluded that it is not worth it.
“Raising a child is an expensive and unprofitable business,” he concluded. “I think having a child is very problematic.”