Decision comes after the ‘two-child policy’ largely failed to boost birth rates
China will for the first time allow couples to have a third child, the country’s government said on Monday, in a further relaxation of family planning rules five years after a “two-child policy” largely failed to boost birth rates. The announcement followed a meeting of the 25-member Politburo, chaired by China’s President and Communist Party of China General Secretary Xi Jinping, “to hear reports on major policy measures to actively address the ageing of population during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025)”, State media said.
The change comes less than three weeks after the release of China’s once-in-a-decade population census that painted an alarming picture of declining births. The National Bureau of Statistics said on May 11 that 12 million babies were born last year, the lowest number since 1961, a time when Mao’s China was in the midst of a four-year famine, and down from 17.86 million in 2016.
The census said China’s population was 1.41 billion in 2020, an increase of 72 million since the last census in 2010, reflecting a 5.38% growth in this period and a 0.53% annual growth. Forecasts say the population could peak in the next couple of years and most likely by 2025, when India will become the world’s most populous country.
Some Chinese demographers said the announcement on Monday, coming so soon after the census, suggested the situation could be more dire than the official numbers indicated. “Maybe it’s because the real population data is too scary,” Yi Fuxian, a demographer, told the South China Morning Post (SCMP). “Even if they have not published it, it probably frightened the decision makers.”
The census recorded 264 million in the age group of 60 and over, up 5.44% since 2010 and accounting for 18.70% of the population. Those in the 15-59 age group were 894 million persons, down by 6.79% since 2010 and accounting for 63.35% of the population. China’s workforce in the 15-59 age bracket peaked at 925 million in 2011, according to the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security said previously. That number was down to 894 million in this census and would drop to 700 million by 2050.
Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalisation, in Beijing, told official broadcaster China Global Television Network (CGTN) following the release of the census that the ageing crisis “might be the biggest challenge the Chinese nation faces in the next century.” It is, however, unclear if the new announcement may address the problem, at least if the past five years are any indication. China introduced a “two child policy” in 2016, but the wide consensus is that it failed to have the desired impact. Surveys carried out by Chinese media attributed financial pressures as one main reason. A 2015 survey by the government said 70% of respondents attributed financial reasons for choosing to not have many children.
An online poll on Monday of 31,000 respondents conducted by the official Xinhua news agency found 28,000 “would not consider at all” having three children, while 1,600 said they would, the SCMP reported. The poll was subsequently removed, the newspaper said.