On Friday, a day after the Chinese government scrapped its controversial one-child policy, the shares of diaper-makers, infant formula companies and stroller manufacturers soared on hopes the world's most populous country was about to undergo a baby boom that could rejuvenate China's greying work force and fuel a transition from export-led growth to a sustainable, consumption-based economy.
On Saturday, Wang Yu Fei stood outside a Starbucks in an affluent shopping district in the north end of Shanghai, and explained why all of that was unlikely to happen.
Ms. Wang, a 34-year-old architect and mother to a rambunctious three-year-old son, should be the ideal candidate to have a second child as the Chinese government will now allow all of its citizens to have two children after decades of restrictive population control. She has a good job, disposable income and lives in Shanghai – which has one of the lowest fertility rates in all of China, at 0.7 children per mother.
But none of that really matters to Ms. Wang.
"I have one kid, but it would be all consuming to have another child," Ms. Wang says. "There are so many fees, and if you want your kid to have a good life, you have to focus."
China implemented its highly restrictive one-child policy in 1980 to control its soaring population growth and to prevent widespread poverty or more famines, such as the one that hit China in the late 1950s during Mao Zedong's so-called Great Leap Forward. But the result, after decades of implementation, is a gender-skewed surplus of lonely young men – who have no wives because of a preference over the years for sons – and old people, with the ratio of working-age Chinese citizens to retirees set to fall to 2:1 by 2030.
The hope now – as the Chinese government attempts to stickhandle an arduous economic transition – is that China's young couples will have children in sufficient numbers to boost falling economic growth. Credit Suisse even estimates the economic impact of a new baby boom could boost Chinese consumption by the equivalent of $49-billion a year starting in 2017.
It's not all grim news, though, even if the new regulation isn't, by itself, spurring new baby making. While many began to mock online the Chinese Communist Party's new-found interest in bedroom activities, many young couples were already planning to have a second child.
Patrick Yang, a 33-year-old employee of a communications company, already has a son and is planning to have a second child. But Mr. Yang was already allowed to have this second child: Not only are he and his wife both only children, but both are ethnic minorities – and China's one-child policy had exclusions for only children and didn't apply to the myriad minorities who live alongside the Han Chinese majority. Mr. Yang is a Hui Muslim from northern China, while his wife is ethnically Manchurian. Mr. Yang thinks having a second kid is a great idea and he thought so before the government made its widespread support official last week.
"It's better for our kid to have another brother or sister," Mr. Yang says, as he shops for basketball gear on a commercial stretch in central Shanghai. "When they get old, it will be easier for them, less lonely. And the family pressures will be shared."
Pei Bei Shen, 27, is another who isn't setting her biological clock by state ordinance: She is married and wants to have a child, and perhaps even two, but Ms. Shen is set on a specific gender – and will try again if she doesn't get what she wants.
"I'm going to have a daughter," she says confidently. "So if I have a son first, I'll definitely try again. Daughters are too cute, too adorable."
But some analysts are not sold on this type of enthusiasm. The macro picture around China shows a declining birth rate – particularly in Shanghai, which is wealthier than other parts of China and a potential sign of where the rest of China is heading as it gets wealthier. Mr. Yang thinks there could be some benefit to the economy as he and others have more children – particularly since his own son, who is about to be signed up for English classes, is costing so much money.
"We're all going to buy extra stuff for the kids. Houses, cars and [their] weddings – those are really expensive," he says.
But Chang Liu, the China economist for London-based research firm Capital Economics, notes that any changes to the work force will take at least 15 years to trickle from the maternity wards to the factory floors – or advanced research centres, depending on what China's economy looks like in 15 years. Mr. Liu says that even with reforms to the one-child policy, China's total fertility rate has fallen from 2.7 in 1981 to 1.7 in 2013, and he suggests that this new reform is unlikely to succeed where others failed. While some businesses – such as those that make strollers, bunk beds and baby formula – could see benefits over the coming year, the broader impact may be muted.
"However, our view is that the boost will likely be much smaller than many people think," he said in an e-mail. "Fertility rates tend to fall as a country becomes wealthier. This shift can be particularly sharp in East Asian economies. Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, all of which have a large ethnically Chinese population, have some of the lowest fertility rates in the world."