China school trains nannies despite falling birth rates
A group of more than a dozen women, dressed in matching pink lab coats, lean over rows of benches in a classroom, serious-faced as they delicately massage and stretch out the limbs of plastic baby dolls.
They were students who came to the Yipeitong training centre in Shanghai from around China to learn to be “yue sao” or confinement nannies, who look after both mothers and newborn babies, particularly in the month after birth.
But with a slowing birth rate in the country, Jiang Lei, a teacher at the centre, said they were feeling the impact.
“I am pretty worried about this problem now. We’re indeed monitoring the birth rate, which is going down dramatically… the requirements for hiring professional nannies are even higher. Our school’s selection criteria for personnel have also been raised,” she said.
Official data released in January showed China’s population fell in 2022 for the first time in six decades and the country recorded its lowest ever birth rate, of 6.77 births per 1,000 people in 2022.
Although the population is declining, with working parents in Chinese cities likely to continue only having one child, childcare experts said they are increasingly willing to spare no expense in getting the best possible care from day one. Confinement care is not new in China, where the practice of confinement post-birth sees nannies taking care of both mother and child.
A new father, Kong Chao, 34, said he hired a professional nanny to take care of his wife and newborn baby as the couple had no experience in confinement care. He paid 90,000 yuan ($13,000) for a confinement nanny for half a year and continued to hire a housekeeper for 7,000 yuan ($1,011) per month after that, to assist his parents in taking care of his baby boy.
“I am willing to pay for a housekeeper, my parents are getting old and the child is naughty,” said Kong.
Despite the high cost of a nanny — who can earn more than the new mothers hiring them — Jiang from the training centre said is demand growing steadily in second-tier cities. In addition to childcare, nannies also do household chores and Jiang trains her students in that as well.
According to job ads seen by Reuters, confinement carers in major cities can earn 15,000 yuan per month or even more, a relatively high salary in a country where the average wage is less than 9,000 yuan, as per the latest available National Bureau of Statistics data.
Those wages are encouraging women with higher education qualifications to enter the industry.
Dong Lili, a student at the centre, studied mechanical engineering before having her own baby six years ago. The experience of caring for her child made the idea of being a career in childcare attractive, she said.
“Although there are many people engaged in this industry, there are not many who are particularly professional. That’s why many people come to study – to develop towards a more professional way,” the 35-year-old added.
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.
With that high cost, many families still tap on the traditional grandparents to take of young children after a short confinement period.
“So we had our confinement nanny leave (after two months). When it came to New Year’s Day, the cost of confinement nannies would triple. The cost is very huge,” said grandmother Wu Yin, 70, while she brought her grandson out to the park on a sunny day.