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Fortune and Misfortune of “Little Emperors”— Employment

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Fortune and Misfortune of “Little Emperors”— Employment
Only Hope: Coming of Age under China’s One-Child Policy provides a fascinating look at the social world of China’s singletons – the first generation to grow up after the one-child policy was instated, showing a whole picture of the consequences of the world’s first state-mandated fertility transition.
China’s one-child policy was designed to create a generation of ambitious, well-educated children that would lead China into the First World. The policy was bred to adapt to the changes demanded by the cultural model of modernization. Through the study, Vanessa L. Fong shows us the social consequences and implications on the singletons resulting from this policy. In a word, the strategy has succeeded, but at a price. Singletons enjoy high living standards, educational opportunities and more concentrated love in the family than before. However, they are also facing intense parental pressure and competition for elite status in the educational system and the job market, as well as the accusation that they were spoiled since they have unrealistically high expectations.
I highly enjoyed reading the book Only Hope. During reading, I found a phenomenon that singletons were eager to find a good job and it was of great importance to them. There are underlying socioeconomic reasons related to the one-child policy. Therefore, in this reaction paper, I am going to discuss about the employment problem of the singletons, which is becoming another social issue and drawing more attention in recent years.
China entering “one child society”
Chinese government started population campaign since 1970s, encouraging delayed child bearing, fewer and healthier births. Stricter enforcement of family planning laws began in 1978, when government strongly advocated the one-child policy to reach the population target of no more than 1.2 billion people by the year 2000. Due to the improvement of living standards and social security system in urban area, “one child only” has become voluntary among urban youth. So the national rate of single-child is increasing with years. By the end of 2004, the national rate of singletons is 64%. The rate is even higher in large and medium-sized cities. Among young couples aged between 25 and 45, the rate of having a single child exceeds 95%. “One couple and one kid” is turning into the typical family structure in urban area in China.
Singletons confronted with grim employment situation
Because of China’s one-child policy, the vast majority of urban Chinese youth born after 1979 are singletons. Now the first generation of singletons born under the one-child policy is gradually becoming a vital new force in the job market. However, the employment situation they are confronted with is very grim.
On the one hand, they are threatened by migrant workers in the changing market.
First, China is in the transition from traditional planned economy to the socialist market economy, from extensive growth to intensive growth. All kinds of organizations or enterprises are increasing efficiency by downsizing payrolls; unemployment is thus turning into an inevitable socioeconomic phenomenon. Everyone, including the singletons, is facing the threat of unemployment.
Due to the relaxation of household registration system, the “employment gate” in cities is now open to all. The cities are inundated with thousands of migrant workers every year. These workers are hard-working and demand lower wages, which are considered as their competitive advantages. With the raise of income and them getting familiar with the life in cities, many of them start to make it home in cities. Coming into the cities has become a group or family activity instead of individual behavior. The migrant workers are competing for jobs in any area with urban force.
On the other hand, the growing number of fresh graduates from college is another challenge for the singletons. In chapter 3 of Only Hope, when several students at high school committed suicide in the past few years, surprisingly a student, Guan Ping, said he hoped even more students commit suicide so there would be fewer people competing for high schools, colleges, and jobs. It is a distorted mind reflecting the extremely fierce competition among this generation. Last thing a college student wants to face is unemployment upon graduation, but the expansion of universities over the last decade is making the employment situation worse.
The number of college graduates keeps increasing every year. In 2000, this number was less than 1 million, while by the end of 2011, it already reached 6.6 million. On the other hand, the expansion of universities also produced “diploma inflation”, which makes a college diploma way less valuable than before, since nowadays it is much easier to enter colleges and there is oversupply of college graduates in the job market. The “diploma inflation” further increases the difficulties for college graduates to find a job.
Singletons’ position in job competition - vulnerable
High expectation for jobs
Most singletons have the belief that educational attainment will lead to upward mobility, so they have high expectations for their future jobs. They have not seen class status passing smoothly from one generation to the next, so they do not have the hopeless attitudes like those of youth whose families have long been trapped at the bottom in societies with entrenched class structures. Vanessa Fong mentioned in the book that even the poorest students were motivated by the cultural model of upward mobility. It is quite similar to the “American dream” that people believe they can achieve better life through hard work, but singletons take the good-paying jobs for granted and are unwilling to work at bottom-rung jobs. Everyone is aspiring to elite status, even though only a small minority can attain it, just as people in Dalian say, “there’s just one road that everyone is trying to squeeze onto”.
In addition, parents also play an important part. Traditionally, Chinese parents have high expectations on their kids, hoping them to be successful in the future. Scholars have also long described the Chinese child as an investment whose value was carefully calculated by parents. Especially in singleton families, the only child carried the only hope for the whole family even for several generations. To find a good job is the basic requirement of almost every single-child family. The so-called “a good job” mainly consists of high social status, high wages and good fringe benefits. However, these are exactly the things that most of migrant workers do not even dare to think about. Therefore, the singletons’ high expectations also cause erosion of their competitiveness to a certain extent.
Character flaws
Under any kind of social environment, one’s character always plays an important role in one’s career. However, the special environment the singletons grow up in has some negative impacts on the development of their characters. Although there are some controversies, some studies show that heavy parental investment spoiled singletons. Though better educated and creative than non-singletons, singletons are also more likely to have difficulty getting along with others, dealing with problems in the work place, and cultivating a sense of social responsibility. A recent study conducted by Australian scholars supports these facts. In the book, Vanessa Fong was also told by parents, teachers and older relatives that most singletons were spoiled and unable to adjust to the environment. These character flaws are threatening singletons’ career stability and development.
Rational thoughts about singletons’ position in job competition
For the vulnerability of singletons’ position in job competition, should we give our sympathy or criticism?
Chinese officials established the one-child policy in order to accelerate modernization, to create a generation of “high quality” people with the resources and ambition to make China competitive in the capitalist world system, but some unexpected social problems came along. The desire to gain elite status against all odds is problematic in China, where opportunities to attain elite status are far outnumbered by those who aspire to attain it. The singletons are a conflicted group. Though they are constantly pressured to push themselves forward on the straight and narrow road to First World careers, they are also criticized for being “unable to adjust to their environment” when they crack under that pressure. For the develop strategy of the country, singletons and their families are making their sacrifice.
Secondly, if we consider this problem from the perspective of input-output economic theory, expecting high return with high investment is quite common. Singleton, as the only hope of the family, enjoys heavier parental investment. Some families raise their only child at all costs. It thus becomes understandable that singletons have high requirements on the jobs, benefits and payments.
So we cannot entirely blame the vulnerabilities that singletons show in employment competition on singletons themselves and their families. There are social, economic and political reasons underlying this problem. Therefore, it is also important that the government and society would take some responsibility.
Conclusions
Admittedly, the best way to sharpen the competitive edge of singletons in the job market is to improve their comprehensive quality. However, it is also surprising when we take a look at the role Chinese government plays here. It seems that the government just sits idly by and turns a blind eye to this problem, doing nothing to improve the situation singletons are facing right now.
China placed its hope on singletons to lead the country to modernization, to a dominant position in the capitalist world system. But it seems that people have only criticisms on singletons instead of compliments. Therefore, it is really necessary for government to stand out and make some adjustments on the education and employment system, to ease the social problems. After all, we do not want to see this singleton generation becomes another group of victims for the economic revitalization and modernization of the country.…...

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