China introduces three-child policy in response to 2020 census results
As the consequences of its previous family planning policies are fast approaching, China hopes its new three-child policy will address rising labor costs, a shrinking working class and an aging population.
China implemented its one-child policy in the late 1970s in an attempt to control its enormous population growth. Any couple who violate this policy could be fined and in some cases even forced to have an abortion. In 2016, the Chinese government officially changed this policy, allowing families to have two children. But since this change has not led to a sustained increase in population, China now faces serious problems of an aging population and increasing labor shortages. In an effort to increase its workforce, the country has once again changed its birth rate policy. Since May 2021, families are allowed to have up to three children.
Respond to its 2020 census
The announcement was made in late May that families in China could have up to three children. This change was made for the same reasons that prompted their policy change in 2016: declining birth rates. It seems that the Chinese Communist Party’s strict population laws have proven to be detrimental to the country’s future.
After receiving the latest population figures from a comprehensive census conducted at the end of 2020, China immediately implemented the three-child policy.
In a May 31, 2021 report, BBC News explained that the census was carried out by seven million enumerators who went door to door collecting information. According to the BBC, the census “showed that around 12 million babies were born last year – a significant decrease from 18 million in 2016, and the lowest number of births recorded since the 1960s”.
The shrinking of a critical demography
A contributing factor to China’s low birth rates is the rapid decline in the number of women of childbearing age. Drawing figures from the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China, China Insights reported on its YouTube channel that “the number of women in their prime reproductive years, between 20 and 34 years old, in China, drastically decreasing each year by a total of approximately 17 million from 2016 to 2020.”
The report attributes this decreasing number of women in this demographic group as the “main cause of the current fertility crisis in China”. He also notes that the low number of able-bodied women today is mainly due to the fact that female babies were forcibly aborted during China’s strict enforcement of the one-child policy – a time when it was economically more advantageous for a family to have a boy.
The costs of raising children
Another reason why the birth rate has always remained low in China despite the two-child policy introduced in 2016 has to do with living expenses. Speaking on this fact, Hao Zhou, a senior economist at Commerzbank, told Reuters on May 31 that “if the easing of the birth policy was effective, the current two-child policy should have been effective as well. “But who wants to have three children? Young people could have two children at most. The fundamental problem is that the cost of living is too high and the pressures of life are too great.”
Prior to this new third child policy, many citizens could not even afford a second child. As CNN reported in 2019, “More than 50% of families don’t plan on having a second child, according to a 2017 study — and cost is a major reason.”
The implications of these record birth rates are worrying for China’s economic future. “The labor pool is shrinking and the population is aging, threatening the industrial strategy that China has used for decades to rise out of poverty and become an economic powerhouse,” writes New York Times correspondent Sui-Lee Wee. in China. The “aging population” she refers to is the country’s large elderly population. Looking at the same 2020 census mentioned earlier, Wee says, “People over the age of 65 now make up 13.5% of the population, according to the census, up from 8.9% in 2010.”
“When she was younger,” she continues, “this population was one of China’s greatest strengths.”
According to Wee, the aging population has led to a shortage of workers, increasing labor costs.
Potentially ineffective policy
The 2016 policy change did not result in a sustained increase in birth rates, leading many to anticipate that this three-child policy will not make a significant difference either. “No matter how many babies they open it to, I won’t have any because the children are too troublesome and expensive,” Li Shan, 26, living in Beijing, said in an interview with the New York. Times. Time.
Besides widespread skepticism about the effectiveness of China’s new three-child policy, some experts believe that until China offers meaningful incentives for women to have children, nothing will change. Jean-Pierre Cabestan, professor of political science at Hong Kong Baptist University, told China Insights that “unless the government introduces real incentives, [like] granting special allowances to couples”, their results will continue to be “fairly disappointing”.