A boy hugs his mother tightly as he only has three minutes to meet her when the train parks on the platform in Hehang Station, Central China's Hunan province, Feb 10, 2018. (PHOTO / VCG)
In 2016, the government introduced the second-child policy, which allowed every couple to have two children. The move was aimed at reversing the decline in the nation's workforce.
However, as the policy really begins to have an impact, women who want to have a second child are subject to greater pressure from both employers and families, according to experts and employment market reports.
Those pressures may result in fewer women entering the job market, which could prompt an economic slowdown, they said.
Data from the World Bank show that the participation rate of China's female labor force was 73.2 percent in 1990, but fell to 60.9 percent last year - still above the global average.
A mother pumps breast milk for her baby at a storeroom of her company in Dongguan, South China's Guangdong province, May 8, 2016. (PHOTO / VCG)
Huang Qian, a professor of economics and demographics at Nankai University in Tianjin, said the decline began in the 1990s.
"The employment rate for women age 25 and younger has declined drastically in recent decades, mainly because a growing number of them have access to higher education. Despite the decline, entering higher education has been a positive trend for women, providing them with wider career paths and more freedom to make choices," he said.
However, he said the universal second-child policy may lead to a steeper decline and have a negative effect on women's careers.
Dai Shujuan, a 33-year-old mother of two, spent three years as a homemaker after giving birth to her second child. She said taking care of two children took up much more time than looking after one child. Also, it was hard to ask for leave from her employer, a private company that was heavily focused on the efficiency of its staff members.
As a result, she quit her job and stayed home.
"When I was pregnant, the company was unhappy if I asked for time off to have health checks. Later, with two children to look after, life was like a guerrilla war. What's more, my work left me with little energy to spare for my family," she said.
This March 5, 2019 photo shows Zou Xiaorong, a 51-year-old food delivery woman, who works till midnight to save money for her son suffering from uremia. (PHOTO / VCG)
Last year, after her second child celebrated her third birthday and started attending kindergarten, Dai went back to work, at a website that organizes playgroup activities.
"Now, I only need to work six hours a day. I feel very lucky to have found the job when I did," she said.
Huang, the professor, said motherhood can affect the time women can devote to work because health checks and other factors mean they have to take time off.That makes them less efficient, and employers may not get value for money, which could even affect profitability. As a result, many employers prefer to hire men.
Moreover, competition in the job market has become fiercer, so companies do not like to hire younger women because they may need to take maternity leave, especially in the wake of the second-child policy, according to a Beijing Normal University report on the development of the labor market for women in China.
The report was conducted in 2016, the year the decades-old family planning policy was scrapped.
A boy applies makeup on his mother at a kindergarten in Nantong, East China's Jiangsu province, March 6, 2019. (PHOTO / VCG)
Also, some companies will not provide training for employees who fall pregnant, or promote them. Some companies even force pregnant workers to resign, the report read.
It noted that about 51 percent of urban females with two children would be willing to give up their careers and focus on their families.
The figure was 17 percentage points higher than for women with one child who held the same opinion.
In addition to the low number of opportunities available to working mothers, many are worried about their ability to strike a work-family balance, the report read.
A report published last year by the recruitment website Zhaopin showed that 30.6 percent of mothers are worried that family commitments will not allow them to devote sufficient energy to their work.
Xu Huiying, a 30-year-old teacher and mother of two, doesn't think she could cope without the help provided by her parents and parents-in-law.
"Initially, my older son did not agree with me having a second child. So, during that time, he got in a very bad mood whenever I attended to his little brother. I owe thanks to the boys' grandparents. If I were working in a big city instead of my hometown and had nobody to help me, I would have quit my job," she said.
A nurse takes care of a baby in NICU at a hospital in Taizhou, East China’s Jiangsu province, March 8, 2019. (PHOTO / VCG)
Huang, said the decline in the employment rate for women will have a negative impact on economic growth, and will hamper progress toward gender equity.
"As our country's demographic advantage (i.e. cheap labor) has gradually vanished, the decline in the female labor force may lead to an economic slowdown, while lower numbers of working women could also impose a greater burden on the social welfare system," he said.
The low female employment rate may also cause gender inequity because women would have lower status in the family and in society, he added.
Guests give a round applause to performers at a reception marking International Women's Day in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 7, 2019. (ZOU HONG / CHINA DAILY)
He urged the government to take measures to reduce the conflict between work and caring for children to prevent the number of female workers from falling too drastically.
"First, anti-discrimination laws should be introduced to ensure a good environment for women who want to work. Then, sound policies on maternity leave and childbirth insurance should be made to support women. At the same time, the government should offer companies a 'birth allowance' (a form of compensation) to relieve the pressures pregnant workers can sometimes impose on employers," he said.
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