If China wants to reverse a decline in population, more should be done to help families raise their children, according to Wei Chao, a 31-year-old mother of twin girls living in Shanghai, and many more parents interviewed held the same view.
"Nowadays many people do not want to have children if they can't provide a good education for them," Wei said on Wednesday as she sat in a park with her husband and daughters.
"When we have good income, of course we would be able to invest more in our children."
The government has already rolled out measures to encourage people to have more babies, including through tax deductions, longer maternity leave and housing subsidies, but so far they have done little to reverse the long-term trend.
China's statistics bureau released a report a day earlier that showed the population fell for the first time since 1961, the last year of China's Great Famine. With more than 1.41 billion people, China still has the world's largest population.
But the drop of roughly 850,000 in 2022 alarmed demographers and analysts who foresaw problems ahead for the economy if the trend continues, though the head of the statistics bureau said "overall labour supply still exceeds demand".
Sky-high education costs and dimming economic prospects have put many Chinese off having more than one child or even having any at all, despite the government scrapping its one-child policy in 2015.
Many Chinese who were born during the two decades after the policy was imposed in 1980 are particularly put off having children as they are already solely responsible for their parents and grandparents without the help of siblings.
"People born in the 1980s or 1990s are not as keen to have children as our parents’ generation," said Ding Ding, the 37-year-old father of a three-year-old girl.
"Our parents think if they have more children, they can get more care when they grow old. But the younger generation don't think the same anymore, they have a different mentality. They think raising one child is already very tiring."
China’s stringent zero-COVID policies that were in place for three years have caused further damage to the country’s demographic outlook, population experts said.
China is one of the most expensive places to raise a child, beaten only by South Korea, according to the Beijing-based YuWa Population Research.
In a study published last year, the think tank compared the cost of raising a child to the age of 18 years relative to the multiples of GDP per capita for different countries.
In Australia it was 2.08 times, 2.24 times in France, 2.91 times in Sweden, 3.64 times in Germany, and 4.11 times in the US.
By comparison, north Asian countries were the costliest, with Japan 4.26 times, China 6.9 times and South Korea 7.79 times. They were also ranked far lower for gender equality by the World Economic Forum versus countries such as Finland and Norway where birth rates were rising. A key root cause of low birth rates is gender inequality, demographers said.
The governments in South Korea and Japan have also introduced measures aimed at encouraging people to have children, but there is still plenty of resistance to starting a family.
“The biggest reason is people don't seem to be able to afford the cost or time spent giving birth and raising children,” Yu Hyun-su, a 23-year-old South Korean college student, said in Seoul.
India may have already overtaken China to become the world's most populous nation. UN experts predicted last year that India would have a population of 1.412 billion in 2022, and had been expecting the South Asian nation to overtake China this year.
On the streets of the Indian capital, some people felt that the government needed to take steps to tame the population growth, though it is already slowing.
"They should bring out some rules and regulations," said New Delhi resident Azhar Khan. “When the country’s population is in control, then only we can develop further.”