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China’s ‘DINK’ generation—double income, no kids—is upending economic stability

In Beijing’s Chaoyang district, 32-year-old ‘Peter’ Liu has created his vision of what an ideal millennial life in modern China should look like. He shares his 680-square-foot apartment with his girlfriend, who goes by Cecilia, and their energetic, bread-colored French bulldog named Sweet Potato. According to Liu, he earns “pretty decent” money selling insurance. With their dual income, they earn enough for their day-to-day life, a monthly stipend for his parents who live in northern China, vacations, and trips to their favorite luxury shop, Louis Vuitton. 

“We feel it’s not necessary to have kids, so I guess we’re not traditional in that sense. Every time my parents call, we end up arguing. They keep asking when we’re going to give them grandchildren. But Cecilia and I are having a good life now without kids,” Liu told Fortune

Yet Liu’s lifestyle is becoming commonplace in a country that has traditionally emphasized filial piety—respecting one’s elders like parents and grandparents—with bearing children as one important aspect. But now, Liu and his partner are only one of at least half a million ‘DINK’—double income, no kids—couples in China. The country’s official censuses from 1980 to 2010 show that ‘DINK’ households have grown decade after decade. 

As China became richer and more urbanized in the last 40 years, young Chinese began following in the footsteps of their peers in developed countries: having fewer kids and marrying later—if at all. The result? A quickly dwindling Chinese population that has Beijing worried China’s population could shrink and grow old at one of the most critical moments of President Xi Jinping’s nine-year rule. 

Generation ‘DINK’ 

The generation of Liu’s parents largely had lifestyles that were opposite to their children’s. Liu’s parents both grew up with many siblings and food was often scarce. This generation was defined by their ability to “eat bitter”—a commonly-used Chinese term that refers to enduring hardship. 

China’s 400 million millennials—a group larger than the U.S.’s total population—are defined as ‘super consumers’ who wield major spending power. Like many of his peers, Liu is an only child. “We spend what we like, eat what we like, and live how we like,” he says. 

In 1979, the Chinese authorities implemented its one-child policy to counter a population boom. China underwent a breakneck pace of development in the next four decades that resulted in a middle-class boom: growing from 3.1% of the population in 2000 to 50.8% in 2018.

But the government’s policies were perhaps too effective. “The one-child policy irreversibly altered the Chinese concept of fertility,” Yi Fuxian, a scientist of obstetrics and gynecology and author of Big Country with an Empty Nest that he wrote for Project Syndicate in July. 

Since 1980, Chinese birth rates have consistently declined. The country’s total fertility rate—the number of children born to women during their child-bearing years—plunged from 5.81 in 1970 to 1.18 by 2010 and a record low of 1.16 last year, among the lowest in the world, worrying Beijing about a looming demographic crisis. 

Chinese millennials—those born between 1981 and 1996—often grew up as only children accustomed to norms of individualism and consumerism, Jean Wei-Jun Yeung, provost-chair professor of sociology and director of the Center for Family and Population Research at the National University of Singapore (NUS), told Fortune. This generation became more likely to seek personal fulfilment, rather than pursuing happiness from having a child, she says. 

Beijing is encouraging citizens to have more kids. It has called on its 96 million Communist Party members to “shoulder the responsibility” of helping China’s population growth, and should have “[no] excuse… to not marry or have children,” a state-run publication wrote last year. 

Liu, however, disagrees. “Is it really young people’s national duty, though? I’m proud of how far China has come, but I wouldn’t sacrifice my personal comfort and happiness to have kids. And many of my peers think the same way.” 

At the same time, China’s economic rise has also meant skyrocketing costs for homes, education, and childcare, making social mobility and the ability to provide a good education for children more difficult. The cost of raising a child in China reached $309,000 in 2020, compared to $233,000 in the U.S., according to local media reports. China’s hyper-competitive schools and workplaces have given rise to movements like ‘lying flat’ and ‘involution,’ which symbolize young people’s growing rejection of its cutthroat systems. Some young Chinese are rejecting marriage altogether—vowing to stay single—pushing China’s new marriages to a record low of 7.6 million last year and contributing to low birth rates. 

“After years… of financial pressures and socially competitive pressures to get ahead, some [in] this generation have had enough,” Zak Dychtwald, author of Young China: How the Restless Generation Will Change Their Country and the World, told Fortune. A decade ago, deciding against having kids in exchange for a better lifestyle was a fringe perspective, he says. But now, Dychtwald says that this “all-consuming centrality of having a child to complete a family [is] slackening their hold” on China’s young people. 

Demographic time bomb 

Beijing is now hoping to avert a ticking demographic time bomb that could threaten its economic growth and political stability during a critical time for China’s future. The government is trying to act. In 2016, it reversed the one-child policy. In 2018, a professor at a leading Chinese university proposed taxing ‘DINK’ families, which triggered a wave of online criticism. Last year, Beijing introduced a three-child policy and began discouraging abortions. Local governments meanwhile, are offering cash subsidies for couples that have several kids, in addition to perks like discounts on in-vitro fertilization and preferential housing policies. 

On Xiaohongshu, a Chinese internet platform that’s a cross between Pinterest and Instagram, users discussed the recent government policies, with one individual calling the measures “useless. The reality is very cruel; I dare not give birth. Couples [with children] can’t compete for jobs with those that don’t have children. Employers prefer those who don’t have kids. You lose money, time, and competitiveness, with children.” 

The measures haven’t helped. This year, China’s new births are set to fall to a record low of less than 10 million. 

This year, China’s population has already begun its decline—10 years ahead of schedule—according to the United Nations’ 2022 World Population Prospects. By 2050, China’s working-age population will drop to 767 million from nearly 987 million today, according to the U.N. The World Economic Forum wrote in July: This “sets the scene for much lower economic growth, unless productivity advances rapidly. Despite forecasts that this will be the ‘Chinese century,’ China’s population projections suggest influence might move elsewhere.”

Beijing’s policies have had “little effect” in encouraging young people to have kids, partly because the social norms entrenched after 40 years of the one-child policy, Yeung argues. More recent challenges, like China’s strict ‘zero-COVID’ policy that has resulted in harsh lockdowns, coupled with China’s economic downturn and looming property crisis, are all adding to people’s uncertainty about the future, Yeung says. 

And the current government measures won’t be enough to reverse China’s demographic tide, Terence Wai Luen Ho, author of Refreshing the Singapore System: Recalibrating Socio-economic Policy for the 21st Century and a public policy associate professor at the NUS, told Fortune. Such financial incentives are inadequate, he says, because Beijing must first rectify the deeper social issues plaguing China, like its lack of work-life balance, and high costs of living, particularly for childcare and education. 

For Liu and many other young Chinese like him, rearing children is “more like a luxury than a necessity,” Dychtwald says. Liu agrees, admitting that Sweet Potato, his dog, is as close as he wants to having a kid. 

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Elon Musk’s ‘peace’ plan for Russia and Ukraine met with backlash

Elon Musk took a break from his day job of leading carmaker Tesla and space cargo company SpaceX to post a “peace” plan for ending the war in Ukraine. But his proposal was quickly met with backlash—including from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

On Monday, Musk posted a poll on Twitter with four suggestions to ending the war. The first: Enlist the United Nations to supervise a redo of the recent sham elections by Russia of four Ukrainian regions that it formally annexed last week. Next, he called for Crimea—invaded by Russia in 2014 and currently occupied by it—to formally become part of Russia. Then, he said Crimea’s water supply should be assured. And lastly, he argued, Ukraine should remain neutral rather than joining NATO. 

“This is highly likely to be the outcome in the end – just a question of how many die before then,” Musk wrote, as a follow up. “Also worth noting that a possible, albeit unlikely, outcome from this conflict is nuclear war.” 

Less than three hours after his first tweet, Zelensky responded to Musk with his own poll, mocking Musk’s plan. 

“Which @elonmusk do you like more?” Zelensky asked. The two choices? One who supports Ukraine, and one who supports Russia. 

Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Andrij Melnyk, also piled on Musk in atypical fashion for a diplomat. “Fuck off is my very diplomatic reply to you,” he wrote. Melnyk later added that no Ukrainian would ever buy a Tesla, telling Musk “good luck.”

Musk, however, persisted. 

“Let’s try this then: the will of the people who live in the Donbas & Crimea should decide whether they’re part of Russia or Ukraine,” he wrote—asking his Twitter followers to answer either “yes” or “no.”

Financial Times correspondent Christopher Miller replied to Musk’s tweet, referring to the Ukrainian Independence Referendum, when Ukrainians were asked to vote on the country’s independence.

“Let’s not try that, @elonmusk,” he wrote. “The people of Donbas & Crimea made their decision in 1991, when Ukrainians from those areas & all others voted freely & unanimously to be in Ukraine.” 

Donbas, a region in Eastern Ukraine, is now nearly fully occupied by Russia. But Ukraine has vowed to liberate it. 

In suggesting Crimea—a peninsula that’s been at the center of Russia and Ukraine’s conflicts—should formally become part of Russia, Musk made clear his belief that the region belongs to Russia, adding that Crimea’s being transferred to Ukraine from Russia by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was a “mistake.” 

A top advisor to Zelensky responded sarcastically to Musk’s Twitter diplomacy  by saying there was a “better peace plan”—including Ukraine liberating its territories, Russia demilitarizing and denuclearizing so it can no longer threaten others, and war criminals be put on trial. 

It’s not just Ukrainian officials who pushed back against Musk. Many of his Twitter followers sounded off in the comments, calling him a “disappointment” and asking that he refrain from weighing in on a topic so outside of his expertise.  

Despite the often hostile response, Musk gave his peace plan one more push on Twitter. 

“Russia is doing partial mobilization. They go to full war mobilization if Crimea is at risk. Death on both sides will be devastating,” the tweet said. “Russia has >3 times population of Ukraine, so victory for Ukraine is unlikely in total war. If you care about the people of Ukraine, seek peace.”

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Global recession could happen because of wealthy nations raising interest rates, United Nations says

Governments around the world are determined to bring down inflation whatever the cost, but a growing chorus of voices is pointing out that aggressive monetary policies could have some serious and long-lasting consequences on the world economy.

Central banks in the U.S., Europe, and the U.K. have pursued relentless monetary tightening policies this year to reduce domestic inflation, but transnational institutions including the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund have warned that this approach could push the world into a long period of low economic growth and persistently high prices, according to a Monday report.

“The world is headed towards a global recession and prolonged stagnation unless we quickly change the current policy course of monetary and fiscal tightening in advanced economies,” the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) cautioned in an annual global trade forecast report released on Monday.

The report predicted that current monetary policies in wealthy nations could spark an economic downturn worldwide, with growth slipping from 2.5% in 2022 to 2.2% next year. The UN says that such a slowdown would leave global GDP well below its pre-pandemic norm, and cost the world economy around $17 trillion, or 20% of the world’s income. And developing nations will be the most negatively impacted, according to the report, and many might be facing a recession worse than any financial crisis in the past 20 years.

“The policy moves that we have seen in advanced economies are affecting economic, social, and climate goals. They are hitting the poorest the hardest,” Unctad director Rebeca Grynspan said in a statement accompanying the report’s release.

“They could inflict worse damage than the financial crisis in 2008,” Grynspan said.

A ‘policy-induced’ recession

The UN agency made clear it will hold central banks around the world responsible for causing the next global recession.

“Excessive monetary tightening and inadequate financial support” in advanced economies could backfire spectacularly, resulting in high levels of public and private debt in the developing world, the report says.

Rising interest rates and fears of a coming recession have sent the value of the U.S. dollar soaring against all other currencies this year. And while this has been great news for American tourists traveling abroad, it’s a fiscal nightmare for developing countries, where import prices are rising fast and servicing dollar-denominated debt is becoming untenably expensive.

Debt levels in emerging markets have been hitting record highs for months, but the strong dollar has exacerbated uneven balances and raised inflation in developing nations as well, according to a separate economic report from the UN published on Monday.

With debt becoming more expensive to service, emerging economies have fewer funds available to invest in health care, climate resilience, and other critical infrastructure, the Unctad report warned, which could lead to a prolonged period of economic stagnation.

“We may be on the edge of a policy-induced global recession,” Grynspan said. 

The report urged advanced economies to consider ways to reduce inflation other than raising interest rates. Grynspan insisted that inflation in every country today is because of a “distributional crisis,” caused by supply-chain bottlenecks unresolved from the pandemic-era, and recommended wealthy nations invest more in developing nations and optimizing supply chains around the world.

Grynspan also called for more debt relief and restructuring packages for emerging economies that are struggling to service their debt.

Unctad joins a growing number of transnational institutions calling on wealthy nations to consider what their efforts to reduce inflation at home is doing to the global economy. Last week, World Bank president David Malpass urged wealthy countries to focus on the supply side of the inflation problem by investing more in production in developing nations and in optimizing supply chains.

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Khloé Kardashian takes a brain scan to prove her emotional trauma

If you have the resources, why not undergo a $3,500 test to prove your brain’s been impacted by cheating, loss, and other forms of emotional trauma. Khloé Kardashian did just that, aiming to prove she’s survived emotional trauma and to counter an online quiz she took that said she lacks resilience. 

In the latest episode of Hulu’s The Kardashians, Khloé underwent a single-photon emission computed tomography, or SPECT scan, after being convinced by sister Kendall Jenner who says it showed her she “100%” has anxiety. The scan is a nuclear imaging tool that uses a gamma camera to examine the brain’s activity, producing a 3D image for a doctor to use to see which areas of the brain are most active. X-rays are helpful to examine the body’s anatomy but have difficulty capturing soft tissue the way a nuclear scan can, which is more helpful at looking at organ function, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. 

Khloé met with Dr. Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist and author of You, Happier: The 7 Neuroscience Secrets of Feeling Good Based on Your Brain Type. He explained that the SPECT scan can show where her brain’s blood is flowing, and measures brain activity. 

“It looks at how your brain works,” he explains to Khloé. Other celebrities, including Bella Hadid, have also take the scan with Amen.

When looking at the imaging results of the “emotional brain” scan, Amen explains how you can assess which parts of the brain are overactive or “way too busy” based on blood flow, a way to show the impact of anxiety. 

“You worry, and you can be anxious, and you’ve had trauma,” says Amen, as he describes Khloé’s scan and shows a “diamond” on the screen. “This often will go with emotional trauma.” 

Amen showed Khloé her physical or outer brain image which was “hurt.” Khloé opened up on the show about being in a car crash when she was 16, something the physical image of the brain scan picked up on. The other image Amen showed was the emotional brain scan. She also noted her dad passing away when she was 19, her emotional stress dealing with a past partner who struggled with drug abuse, as well as finding out she was being cheated on while she was pregnant. A lot of this trauma she learned from social media, she says.

“It surprises me that a scan is able to pick up on things that are emotional and not just physical,” Khloé says in a reflection of her experience on the show. This type of scan is used to identify other mental disorders like ADHD and dementia. 

A study found that traumatic events have an impact on the brain, specifically in the amygdala, which regulates emotions; the hippocampus, which regulates memory; and the prefrontal cortex, which plays a role in decision making. For those with anxiety, for example, brain scans can show overactivity in the amygdala or emotional processing area, although they aren’t the sole way of identifying mental health issues.  

Khloé’s brain scan shows she may have been affected by cheating or loss, but emotional trauma doesn’t have to be permanent. Neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to change and create new thought patterns, is a hopeful note that the brain’s emotional trauma is not permanent. 

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