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The Impact of the Year of the Dragon on fertility rates. U.S. & China Demographic Crisis

China and the US are facing a shrinking labor force. Can bringing children into the Year of the Dragon, which is considered a lucky year, increase fertility rates and solve the demographic crisis? What cultural beliefs still influence fertility decisions?

China faces a critical challenge — its workforce is dwindling. Financial expert Ray Dalio’s analysis reveals a concerning trend: since 1961, China’s labor force has been diminishing at an unprecedented rate. Currently, it’s reducing by 5 million workers annually, a figure expected to escalate to 8 million by 2030. The projections sound the alarm for a severe manpower crisis, with the nation potentially lacking 200 million workers by 2050, mirroring the entire workforce of the United States. “Will the Chinese zodiac help solve the demographic problem and increase fertility rates, especially in the Year of the Dragon?”, analyzes Pythia.Guru in its article, citing recent research.

The dragon, within the rich tapestry of Chinese astrology, holds a place of honor. Esteemed as the pinnacle of the zodiac animals, it symbolizes success and prosperity. This celestial creature’s allure is so potent that families are determined to align their offspring’s birth with the dragon year, resorting to advanced reproductive technologies and timed deliveries to ensure their children are endowed with the dragon’s auspicious blessings.

Among the zodiac’s eclectic lineup of 12 animals, each with its unique traits, the dragon stands supreme. It embodies wisdom, confidence, and ambition like no other. Its esteemed status pushes couples to go above and beyond, from IVF to planned C-sections, ensuring their child is born in the Year of the Dragon. With the upcoming baby boom in mind, schools are even adding new classes.

ScienceDirect sheds light on how the Chinese Zodiac’s lucky and unlucky years play a role in birth timing.

Even national leaders are joining the dragon bandwagon. Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, recently urged his people to embrace the arrival of “little dragons” into their families. When the dragon speaks, Asia listens.

The Allure of the Dragon Baby: Fact or Fiction?

But the fascination with the Year of the Dragon isn’t just about ancient stories. A study by Louisiana State University & Texas A&M University in 2019 revealed something fascinating: children born in dragon years not only excel in university entrance exams but also have a higher likelihood of holding a college degree. And interestingly, girls in this group tend to be taller. It’s not just about believing in fate; it’s about the effort and resources parents invest in their “dragon children.”

Naci Mocan, an economics professor at Louisiana State University and study co-author, explains it simply: “It’s the belief in the dragon children’s uniqueness that starts this boom. Parents invest more and have high expectations. This encouragement and faith drive the children’s achievements. That’s the secret to its centuries-long legacy.”

In China, the Lunar New Year is more than a holiday; it’s a vital part of its culture. There’s a renewed hope that this ancient belief might spark a baby boom. Hospitals are getting involved, offering advice and planning tips for couples hoping to conceive a dragon baby. Huantai Maternity and Child Healthcare Hospital in Shandong province is one, telling couples, “This is the right moment! Plan wisely for your dragon baby, with science on your side.”

Zhai Zhenwu, a leading figure in China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission, shared a hopeful message with Times Finance this January. The widespread preference for astrological timing could mean a significant boost in the country’s fertility rate this year.

At this pivotal moment, the world’s number two economy finds itself on a precarious edge, facing a demographic downturn. Despite relaxing the rules around family size to permit up to three children and introducing financial perks to sweeten the deal, the charm of parenthood seems to be losing its sparkle for the younger crowd.

The number of newborns in 2023 continued a worrying trend, marking the seventh year of decline and hitting a new low of 9.02 million—down significantly from the numbers we saw back in 2017. With a population of 1.4 billion, projections are grim, suggesting a possible halving by the century’s end.

“The Year of the Dragon might just give us that slight advantage we need,” comments Huang Wenzheng, a demographics whiz and senior fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing. “A dash of creative policy-making aimed at encouraging families could inch the fertility rate up by a small 0.01 percent,” he muses.

Huang, alongside economist Naci Mocan, is placing bets on the dragon year to potentially bring in an additional million babies, pushing the year’s total births to an estimated 10 million. This isn’t just hopeful thinking; history has recorded noticeable bumps in dragon years, with increases nearing 300,000 in 2000 and an impressive 900,000 in 2012, as per Mocan’s studies.

A sign pointing to this awaited baby boom? A rise in marriage rates. The initial nine months of 2023 witnessed marriages climbing by 4.5 percent from the previous year, with expectations to reach 7 million by the year’s end, up from 6.8 million in 2022.

Recently, there’s been a noticeable uptick in fertility consultations, indicating a collective readiness to embrace new beginnings in these fortuitous times. Sherry Yang, who assists Chinese couples seeking fertility treatments in Kazakhstan, reports an unexpected boom in interest, despite the economic outlook. One couple is even aiming for triplets, hoping for three dragon babies through IVF this coming August.

Yet, this pursuit of timely births has prompted some in the medical field to worry about a potential rise in abortions later in the year for those who miss the dragon-year mark. “We’ve seen an increase in discussions around planning Caesarean sections early to ensure a birth during the dragon year,” some medical professionals in Asia noted.

Yang, however, sees this surge in fertility interest as a bounce-back from delays caused by the pandemic. “The last three years were challenging for those trying to get pregnant, with the health codes and strict rules of China’s zero-COVID policy,” she points out.

Some believe luck is in the timing. In China, leaving a child’s fate to chance isn’t something every parent is willing to do.

Zhang Xiaolei’s story highlights the importance of zodiac timing in planning a family. Following her engagement, the first family meeting was dedicated to consulting the Chinese zodiac calendar. “It was clear from the start: we were to avoid a sheep year birth at all costs,” Zhang, a 26-year-old civil servant from Shangdong, shares. In an effort to boost their odds, her husband quit drinking and became more active, while Zhang opted for a healthier diet and made sure to get plenty of rest. Despite their commitment, they encountered hurdles. “After trying for a year and a half, we were still waiting. Maybe it was the pressure that got the better of us,” she reflects, a note of sadness in her voice.

The buzz around the Year of the Dragon isn’t just a China thing. It’s stirring excitement across Asia, including in places like Singapore and Malaysia. Teresa Tan, a sought-after postpartum-care nanny, finds herself booked solid through September, witnessing bookings soar by 40% compared to last year. “The dragon year’s effect as clear as day,” she says.

In Taipei, Cathy Tsai from Infancix, a center dedicated to postpartum care, is seeing expectant moms locking in their spots way earlier than before—some as soon as seven or eight weeks into their pregnancy, rather than the typical 12-week mark. The dragon year seems to have a broad appeal, sparking optimism and prompting action far and wide across the continent.

Mak Ling-ling, a famous fortune teller in Hong Kong, is fielding a wave of inquiries, some from well-known female celebrities, all hoping for a dragon year baby. “Everyone’s joining the race for a dragon baby,” she notes. “While the zodiac significantly impacts birth rates among Chinese communities, the current economic hurdles cast a long shadow over this age-old tradition.”

U.S. Shifting Priorities: A Generation Redefines Family

Today’s younger generation appears to be pacing themselves when it comes to starting families. Take Sophia Wang, a 28-year-old from Beijing with a career in marketing at a consulting firm. She’s embracing the DINK (Double Income, No Kids) lifestyle wholeheartedly. “Marriage? Maybe. Kids? That’s a no from me,” Wang states. “Our parents thought raising kids was simple—feed them, watch them grow. We see it quite differently.”

This fertility dip isn’t unique to China, writes Pythia.Guru, a service of daily, personalized astrology horoscopes. In the U.S., demographers and journalists are delving into the declining birth rates, citing familiar reasons like job security, the cost of childcare, limited parental leave, and the high cost of renting a home.

The way culture weaves into our lives has long-lasting effects, and birth trends are no exception. The National Center for Health Statistics has picked up on a curious trend: a collective effort to avoid holiday birthdays.

It seems the prospect of Christmas Day celebrations doubling as birthday parties doesn’t appeal to many, evidenced by fewer births on holidays and a noticeable uptick in C-sections just before these dates. This behavior underscores a broader global pattern where cultural events and holidays significantly influence when babies are born, from Christmas and summer breaks in the Czech Republic to Ramadan in Israel, New Year’s in France, and the Ghost Month in Taiwan.

Interestingly, American TV has played its part in shaping societal trends, with shows like “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” contributing to a decrease in teenage pregnancies. This trend is supported by spikes in online searches for birth control and abortion, showcasing the influential power of the media. Despite skepticism, the impact of these shows has been enduring. However, this drop in teen pregnancies hasn’t been compensated by an increase among older demographics, leading to a general decline in fertility rates, according to The Institute for Family Studies.

The influence of entertainment on fertility decisions stretches far beyond American television. In Brazil, for instance, the family sizes and life choices of soap opera characters have significantly swayed viewers’ decisions, even influencing baby naming trends. Another interesting finding is that entertainment shaping societal norms about family life and fertility is global, with higher rates of television consumption often correlating with reduced sexual activity, a trend that extends to the U.S. in the smartphone era. These patterns reveal the profound impact of societal portrayals of family life on fertility rates.

Bastien Chabe-Ferret’s research into fertility norms suggests that cultural influences on fertility are deeply ingrained and passed down through generations. While these norms can evolve under influences such as education levels, they never fully dissipate.

The dynamics between traditional male-breadwinner models and marriage rates reveal a complex picture. While personal belief in the male-breadwinner model might correlate with higher marriage rates in specific groups, a broader adherence to this model is linked with lower marriage rates. This paradox has led to calls for more gender-egalitarian values to boost family stability and fertility, with some suggesting that “Feminism is the new natalism.”

However, studies challenge the notion that a shift towards egalitarian values directly leads to higher fertility rates. Despite American women’s strong desire for children, systemic barriers remain the primary hurdle to achieving higher birth rates.

Lyman Stone from the Institute for Family Studies and the American Enterprise Institute points out a significant gap in fertility awareness among both men and women, many of whom underestimate their potential fertility challenges. He advocates for a comprehensive overhaul of sex education in the U.S. to include science-based fertility education, aiming to provide a realistic understanding of fertility, the risks of delaying childbearing, and the broader implications for family planning.