China easing birth limits further to cope with ageing society

Clay Curtis
May 31, 2021

Married Chinese couples may have up to three children, China announced on Monday, in a major shift from the existing limit of two after recent data showed a dramatic decline in births in the world's most populous country.

Fearing a population explosion, in 1979 China implemented its one-child policy, which succeeded in curbing population growth but also led to coerced sterilisations and sex-selective abortions that exacerbated a gender imbalance as many parents preferred male children. While the relaxation did result in some improvement in the proportion of young people in the country, the policy change was deemed insufficient in averting an impending demographic crisis.

Restrictions that limited most couples to one child were eased in 2015 to allow all to have two. China is reported to be planning to eliminate the law that says each family can only have two children. The State Council, China's cabinet, has commissioned research on the repercussions of ending the country's policy which has lasts roughly four decades and intends to enact the change nationwide, said the people, who asked not to be named.

What was the "one child" policy?

State media did not say when the new policy would be implemented. It also used more nefarious means, such as coerced abortions and sterilization.

The supposed benefits of the policy have also been questioned. But due to the policy, by the year 1990, the national birth rate was reduced to 1.7 percent. Some couples have said the rising cost of living in China makes having a second child too expensive.

Leaders also agreed China needs to raise its retirement age to keep more people in the workforce and improve pension and health services for the elderly, Xinhua said. An ageing population and shrinking birth rate does not have a positive impact on the long-term economic prospects of the country. India's population, for instance, will start ageing from the middle of this century onwards.

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However, many experts remain cautious. "But we don't know the 100% answer to that". "We don't feel like we have that now". Initially, the expert report said a theory involving the virus leaking from a lab was "extremely unlikely".

China's birth rate, paralleling trends in other Asian economies, already was falling before the one-child rule.

Per the census, Chinese population grew at its slowest rate during the last decade since the 1950s.

Despite efforts to encourage couples to have children, China's annual births have continued to plummet to a record low of 12 million in 2020, the National Bureau of Statistics said. The country's fertility rate has now dropped to 1.3, far below the replacement level of 2.1 necessary for each generation to be fully replenished. The country now has over 1.4 billion people.

Why was China's second-child policy not successful?

Experts say relaxing limits on reproductive rights alone can not go a long way in averting an unwanted demographic shift.

Among those measures, China will lower educational costs for families, step up tax and housing support, guarantee the legal interests of working women and clamp down on "sky-high" dowries, it said, without giving specifics. The problem is made worse by the country's pervasive culture of long working hours.

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