Concerned about China’s shrinking population, government policy advisers have issued more than 20 recommendations to boost birth rates, although experts say the best they can do is slow the population decline.
China has dug itself into a demographic hole, mainly due to its one-child policy, which was imposed between 1980 and 2015. Authorities raised the limit to three in 2021, but even while staying at home in COVID times, couples have been reluctant to have babies.
Young people cite high childcare and education costs, low incomes, a weak social safety net and gender inequalities as discouraging factors.
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Proposals for boosting the birth rate, made at the annual meeting of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) this month, range from subsidies for families raising their first child instead of just the second and third, to expanding free ones public education and improving access to fertility treatments.
Experts took the sheer number of proposals as a positive sign that China is treating its aging and declining demographics with urgency, after data showed the population shrank last year for the first time in six decades.
“You can’t change the downward trend,” said Xiujian Peng, a senior research fellow at Victoria University’s Center of Policy Studies in Australia. “But without fertility policies, fertility will actually decline
A request by CPPCC member Jiang Shengnan that young people work just eight hours a day to give them time to “fall in love, get married and have children” is crucial to ensuring women aren’t overworked, he said bang
Providing incentives to have a first child could encourage couples to have at least one child, she said. Many federal states currently only support second and third children.
To ease the pressure on young families, the National Health Commission (NHC) issued draft rules on Wednesday that would allow qualified individuals to run day care for a maximum of five children aged up to three.
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China’s birth rate fell to 6.77 births per 1,000 people last year from 7.52 births in 2021, the lowest on record.
Demographers warn China is getting old before it gets rich, as its workforce shrinks and indebted local governments spend more on their aging population.
Experts also lauded a proposal to scrap all family planning measures, including the three-child limit and requiring women to be legally married to register their children.
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Arjan Gjonca, associate professor at the London School of Economics, said financial incentives are not enough and policies focused on gender equality and better labor rights for women are likely to have more impact.
CPPCC proposals such as maternity leave paid for by the government rather than employers would help reduce discrimination against women, while increasing paternity leave removes a barrier for fathers to take on more parental responsibilities, experts said.
Demographer Yi Fuxian remains skeptical that any measures would have a significant impact on their own, saying China needs a “paradigm revolution across its economy, society, politics and diplomacy to boost fertility.”
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