In early 2017 we at beijingkids expressed some doubt as to whether the easing of the one child policy was leading to the surge in births hoped for by the government, and needed by the Chinese economy. Now figures for 2018 suggest that the birth rate is actually falling.
According to South China Morning Post, China experienced 15.23 million happy events last year, the lowest figure since 2014. That’s 10.94 births per 1,000 people, down from 12.95 two years ago, and the lowest rate recorded since 1961. However, older statistics are not regarded as being accurate by experts.
Either way, this represents a problem for policymakers. China needs more children to support an aging population and to maintain a growing economy. The one child policy was first relaxed in 2013, allowing parents to have two children if at least one of them was an only child. Then in 2016, all families were permitted two children. This led to a brief surge in births, but since then the numbers have fallen for two years in a row.
The reasons for this decline are complex, and there are no easy solutions. In part, it reflects the changing demographics of the country. There are 33 million more men than women in China; only India has a worse gender imbalance. With an aging population, the number of women of childbearing age is falling. This comes against the background of an economic slowdown, leaving many young urban couples struggling to pay high rents. And raising a child is expensive, given the pressures to spend lavishly on education in a highly competitive environment.
Perhaps the greatest challenge though is that decades of the strictly-enforced policy means generations have grown up with one child families as the norm. It’s hard to change people’s expectations and life plans overnight. The government has mooted introducing financial incentives for couples to have a second child, but tax breaks are likely to have less influence than KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) on social media promoting a glamorous lifestyle with a handsome husband – and one beautiful child.
Photo: Tyler Byber via Flickr