According to Global Times, China experienced a baby boom in 2016, with a million more births than the previous year (17.5 million compared to 16.5 million). The boom was attributed to the relaxation of the one child policy. However, as is so often the case with statistics, all may not be as it seems on the surface.
After forty years of the one child policy, China faces the dilemma of an aging population: by 2020, nearly a quarter of citizens are expected to be over 65. In many ways, this reflects progress. Life expectancy has increased from around 40 in 1960, to 69 by 1990 and over 75 today. It’s also not a problem unique to China as the west’s own “baby boom” generation reaches retirement age. However it does present the challenge of a declining labor force, and raises the question of who will support the elderly, few of whom have pensions.
This was the rationale for the latest in a series of relaxations of the rules governing family size. From January 2016, all couples are permitted two children. By November this was being hailed as a success, responsible for the increase in births. However that seems oddly early to have gathered and analyzed data on births in a country as vast and populous as China.
There are other factors too. Births in the first half of the year could not have been influenced by the announcement, which came suddenly and without warning. It has also been suggested that some part of the rise in births is due to last year having been the Year of the Monkey, seen as a particularly auspicious year.
More cautious voices say that the rise is in fact the last rule change filtering through: from 2013, families were allowed two children as long as one of the parents was an only child. This includes large numbers of urban households. Some have even suggested that controls should be dropped altogether, since trends in the west and Japan indicate that families in developed nations limit their own size. Only time will tell whether this year will bring a bumper clutch of little Roosters.
Photo: Jakob Montrasio via Flickr