In 2015, the Chinese government reformed its infamous “one-child policy” to allow two births for most couples, hoping that it would address a looming demographic crisis by boosting the nation’s birthrate. However, a major birth boom did not follow, due in part to many of China’s educated urban elite considering the rising costs of living an obstacle to raising a second child. In 2018, the omission of all references to “family planning” in the draft civil code hinted that birth restrictions may be dropped entirely. According to official statistics published last week, the 2019 birthrate of 14.6 million babies was the lowest since the 1949 founding of the PRC, a 500,000 drop from the 2018 and the third consecutive annual decline. At The Guardian, Lily Kuo outlines policymakers’ unsuccessful efforts to ward off a demographic crisis in recent years, and relays expert concerns that the falling birthrate reflects wider social and economic crises and is unlikely to turn around soon:
“One can no longer point now to the Chinese government’s restrictive birth control policy as the culprit,” said Wang Feng, a sociology professor at the University of California, Irvine. “Such a low birthrate shows abundantly clear that it is driven by the strong structural forces, both economic and social, and it will remain so for the foreseeable future.”
[…] Demographers said China’s population would begin to shrink in the next decade and by 2050 people over the age of 60 would account for a third of the population. That would strain public services as well as their children, many of them only children, who would bear the brunt of caring for their elderly parents.
Experts say such a low birthrate does not bode well for the future.
“China has long joined the large number of countries in the world with very low fertility,” said Wang. “It needs now to learn the lessons and experiences from other countries to formulate long-term measures and reforms to make the society more family friendly.” [Source]
More from Issaku Harada at the Nikkei Asian Review:
The fall in the birthrate is likely to accelerate as the number of young women of childbearing age is expected to drop sharply.
Meanwhile, the population is aging due to greater longevity. According to the announcement on Friday, the number of people over age 65 reached 12.6% of the total population at the end of 2019, 0.7 percentage point up from the previous year.
The birthrate decline and aging place an extra burden on the nation’s finances and social security benefits such as healthcare and pensions.
Each province in China has its own pension program, but some regions have already run out of pension reserves.
As China’s aging population is projected to become a major peril to China’s economy—which saw its slowest growth rate in nearly three decades last quarter—The Wall Street Journal’s Chao Deng looks at how economic factors have contributed to the falling birthrate:
Chinese women are having fewer babies as cultural expectations shift and the financial burden of living in cities skyrockets. They are becoming more educated and forming different views on career and marriage, with some putting off childbearing until later, or not having children at all.
China’s social-welfare system lags behind that of rich nations, leaving parents with greater responsibility for child care and education. Discrimination in the workplace over pay and recruitment can also discourage women from having children.
Views on childbearing are especially stark in big cities. Kang Juan, a 41-year-old editor of a financial publication in Beijing, has decided that a child would create an unnecessary burden. “I won’t have children unless there is an unplanned pregnancy,” said Ms. Kang, who is single.
Ms. Kang said she saw many of her female colleagues forced to accept lower salaries after having children. “Having children will definitely hinder your career development in China,” she said. [Source]
At The Guardian, Emma Graham Harrison notes that systemic discrimination and years of family planning propaganda have also been a hindrance to the government’s recent push for more babies:
Single daughters have grown up in a system that taught whole families that limiting family size was a path to happiness, prosperity and social mobility.
That combination of deeply sexist constraints and years of propaganda have proven powerfully effective as contraceptives for many women.
[…] Its push for a higher birthrate is within highly constricted boundaries. The government wants more babies, but only the ones that it considers the right kind of babies, born into a traditional marriage of a man and a woman.
Single mothers face fines or obstacles to accessing social services for their children. One woman has been suing just for the right to freeze her eggs. With same-sex marriage not legal, gay and lesbian couples struggle to become parents. [Source]