China eases birth limits, to allow couples to have 3 children

Ross Houston
May 31, 2021

China's ruling Communist Party will ease birth limits to allow all couples to have three children instead of two to cope with the rapid rise in the average age of its population, a state news agency said today.

The Chinese Communist Party's top leadership made the decision at a meeting on Monday, state media said, in a move created to combat the country's aging population.

China's one-child policy was introduced in 1979 and for more than 35 years limited couples to a single offspring, as the country tried to address overpopulation and alleviate poverty.

The Politburo meeting promised "accompanying support measures" including improving maternity leave, universal childcare and lowering the costs of education, but without giving firm commitments.

Zhang Xinyu, a 30-year-old mother of one from Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, said the problem was that women bore most of the responsibility for raising children.

Data also showed a fertility rate of just 1.3 children per woman for 2020 alone, on a par with aging societies like Japan and Italy.

Despite concerns about demographic imbalance, Chinese leaders hesitated to simply abolish the one-child policy.

Couples say they are put off by high costs of raising a child, disruption to their jobs and the need to look after elderly parents.

A 2015 study by the Academy of Macroeconomic Research at the National Development and Reform Commission found almost half of China's unregistered citizens were illiterate or lacked formal education.

China is one of few countries which has a household registration system, known as hukou in Chinese, that contains the births, marriages and other information on citizens.

China's census, released earlier this month, showed that around 12 million babies were born past year - a significant decrease from the 18 million in 2016, and the lowest number of births recorded since the 1960s.

The ruling party has enforced birth limits since 1980 to restrain population growth but worries the number of working-age people is falling too fast while the share over age 65 is rising.

China has a traditional social preference for boys which prompted sex-selective abortions and abandoned baby girls.

However, the policy reversal failed to raise the country's birth rate, which fell by nearly 15% year-on-year in 2020.

The reduction in birth rate, resulting from the high cost of child up-keep in China, has led to more provisions by the government. The shrill alarm for China's policymakers is that the world's second-biggest economy may already be in irreversible population decline without having first accumulated the household wealth of G7 nations.

A third of Chinese are forecast to be elderly by 2050, heaping huge pressure on the state to provide pensions and healthcare.

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