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Only Children and the Amount of Children's Allowance in China

Only children, whose numbers have increased under China’s one-child policy, tend to be seen as selfish and lacking in social skills because they are financially and materially indulged. This study reviews the current economic situation of only children in China based on the results of questionnaires regarding the allowance received by primary, junior high school, and senior high students in four areas: Yanbian, Beijing, Shandong, and Shanghai. It indicates that significance of factors other than number of siblings, such as the economic environment of the household, when considering issues regarding only children.

Children's Allowance, China, Only children, Tadaharu Watanabe

People tend to have an image of only children as being spoiled. They consider that all the family members dote on the only child, providing whatever he/she wants both financially and materially, which results in selfish behavior and no social skills. The author himself is actually an only child, and his parents were quite conscious of this image.

In China, where the fertility rate has dropped to approximately 1.8 (some insist even lower), due to its one-child policy, it may safely be said that education and child-rearing of only children are a societal challenge. As a matter of fact, people often attribute youth issues in China to this one-child policy.

Experimental research on personalities of only children in China, conducted by Australian researchers, was published in Science on 10th January in 2013 (Cameron, Erkal, Gangadharan and Meng, 2013). In this experiment, the researchers split the examinees into four groups: two groups each born before and after the enforcement of the one-child policy. Then they asked the groups to try out an economics game mimicking money exchange and investment. This experiment, as a result, demonstrated a major difference in human communication among the examinees. It was pointed out that those born after the policy tend to be selfish, have less faith in others, avoid risks and competition, are passive, pessimistic, less responsible, and nervous. It sounds to me a little exaggerated, and unlike my personal impression of Chinese youth. However, it is undeniable that the general impression of only children coincides with the findings of this study.

What is then the reality of this material and financial indulgence? Is it true that in China only children are given a greater allowance compared to those with siblings?

Researchers from Japan, China, Korea and Viet Nam have been collaborating on a large-scale research and analysis of the actual condition of children's allowance in each of these countries (e.g., Yamamoto, Takahashi, Sato, Takeo, Oh & Pian, 2012). I myself participated in analyzing the data from China (See Watanabe, Pian, Takahashi and Zhou, 2012, for the detail concerning expenditure). While analyzing the data at hand, I came up with the idea to compare the amount of allowance between only children and children with siblings.

Let me explain the outline of this research before bringing up the findings. A questionnaire-based research was conducted in 2002, targeting 2,586 students from primary to senior high schools in Yanbian, Beijing, Shandong, and Shanghai. The questionnaire includes such entries as: how they receive and spend their allowance (including New Year's gift money), their attitude towards money, and the giving and taking of money between parent and children and/or among friends. The questionnaire also asks the amount of money children receive within a month. The table below is the family composition (%) of the respondents. The percentage of an only child is high in the areas of Yanbian, Beijing, and Shanghai, while in Shandong apparently more children have siblings.

Table 1 With or Without Siblings (%)
Beijing Shandong Yanbian Shanghai
 The number of
 children within
 a family
 Only child 62.89  39.23  62.86  72.28 
 Two children 7.84  18.40  26.80  17.21 
 Three children 13.73  13.69  3.40  5.93 
 More than four 15.55  28.67  6.94  4.59 

Table 2 indicates the relationship between the amount of monthly allowance and the number of siblings in each area.

Note: The figures in Table 2 are not the average value, as the analyzed data did not show the normal distribution. Instead, Table 2 indicates the amount received by children at 25%, 50% (the intermediate value) and 75% for the total distribution when setting them in line by the received amount from the lowest to the highest.

Table 2 Family Composition and the Amount of Monthly Allowance (Chinese Yuan Renminbi)
Beijing Shandong Yanbian Shanghai
25% 50% 75% 25% 50% 75% 25% 50% 75% 25% 50% 75%
20.0  50.0  157.5  10.0  20.0  60.0  90.0  180.0  300.0  20.0  60.0  200.0 
9.5  50.0  200.0  12.8  50.0  200.0  95.0  200.0  300.0  7.0  20.0  90.0 
5.3  32.5  100.0  11.9  30.0  100.0  120.0  170.0  250.0  8.8  25.0  107.5 
 More than
10.0  25.0  100.0  10.0  25.0  65.0  60.0  110.0  150.0  13.5  50.0  150.0 

It can be inferred from Table 2 that the amount of monthly allowance received by an only child does not necessarily exceed that received by his/her counterparts with siblings. Also, the distribution pattern varies characteristically from one area to another.

First, as for the relation between the amount of allowance and the existence of siblings, overall, families with two children give the largest amount of monthly allowance, except in Shanghai. In Shandong, children who have a sibling receive more money than an only child does.

Second, concerning the geographical gap, in Shanghai an only child receives the most, while in Shandong the more the number of children increases, the less amount one child receives. In Beijing and Yanbian the amount does not appear to vary drastically regardless of the number of children.

What are the reasons behind for the result in which the children with siblings receive a greater allowance than an only child? This is my only guess, as the level of family income was beyond the scope of this research, but I suppose the family with more than one child could be, in the first place, financially successful. A family with more than one child is fined in China, and in Beijing the charge ranges from two to eight times more than the average annual income, although the amount and conditions of the penalty charge (known as social support fee) differ from an area to another. This is unaffordable unless the family is fairly well off. It can be said that the wealthier a family is, the more the amount of allowance they can provide with their children. That is, financially speaking, attention should be paid to the household's economic status, rather than the number of children in a family.

Of course, the research has its own limitations. It does not cover the whole area of China, and in terms of population, it is possible that the respondents of 2,500 children do not reflect the reality of the entire population in China. Some may also doubt the extent to which the questionnaire, completed by the children themselves, represents the actual situation. However, the findings invite us to re-consider how we view the education and child-rearing of an only child. More substantive research is necessary for us to have more in-depth discussion on this issue.

This paper mainly deals with the financial aspect of only children. Of course this issue can be tackled with from multiple perspectives. I am pleased to discuss other related aspects in future papers.

Note: The data used for the analysis above were collected earlier as part of the following research projects supported by the scientific research fund.
- 2001 Maebashi Kyoai Gakuen College Collective Research Fund
- 2003-2005 Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research B-1 Overseas No.1542044
- 2006-2009 Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research B-1 Overseas No. 18402042

  • Cameron, L., Erkal, N., Gangadharan, L, and Meng, X. (2013). Little Emperors: Behavioral impacts of China's One-Child Policy. Science, 10 Jan. 2013
  • Watanabe, T., Pian, C., Takahashi, N. & Zhou, N. (2012). Consumption and spending patterns of primary and secondary school children: comparative study among Beijing, Shanghai, Shandong, and Yanbian children, Journal of Zhengzhou Normal Education. 1(3), 13-22. (in Chinese)
  • Yamamoto, T., Takahashi, N., Sato, T., Takeo, K., Oh, S., & Pian, C. (2012) How Can We Study Interactions Mediated by Money as a Cultural Tool: From the Perspectives of "Cultural Psychology of Differences" as a Dialogical Method. In J. Valsiner (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Culture and Psychology. Oxford University Press.

Watanabe_Tadaharu.jpgTadaharu Watanabe, M.Ed., Tokyo University, Graduate School of Education. Ed.D., Beijing Normal University, School of Psychology, Research Institute for Developmental Psychology.

Currently conducting comparative research on university entrance exam systems and examinee psychology in China and Japan at Graduate School, Renmin University of China. Specializes in comparative education, cultural psychology, educational psychology, and developmental psychology.
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