China will allow couples to have up to three children as the number of working-age people in the world’s most populous country declines too quickly, state media reported on Monday.
The Xinhua News Agency reported that the change was approved at a Communist Party Politburo meeting chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The news follows census data that shows China’s working-age population has shrunk over the past decade, while the number of people over the age of 65 has increased, weighing down the economy and the society. Growth is the slowest in decades and could pose a major threat to China’s ambitious economic goals, experts have warned.
“Birth policies will be further improved. A policy allowing a couple to have three children will be introduced along with support measures, which will improve the structure of the Chinese population, ”Xinhua reported.
The Communist Party has imposed birth rates since 1980 to curb population growth, and the population decline is in part the result of its controversial one-child policy imposed in 1979. Couples who violate its laws family planning risk losing their jobs and being fined. In some cases, mothers have been forced to abort their babies or be sterilized.
Restrictions were relaxed in 2015, after calls were made to change the one-child policy amid slowing economic growth and warnings of economic problems that could stem from an aging population. Families were then allowed up to two children per family.
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However, policy liberalization has failed to revive the decline in the country’s birth rate. The 2020 census found that mothers gave birth to 12 million babies last year, up from 14.65 million in 2019, marking an 18% year-over-year decline, continuing the descent of the China at a low of nearly six decades.
At the same time, the number of older people has also increased to 18.7% of the total, down from 13.26% ten years ago and around 10% in 2000.
Some experts have warned that the government’s proposal will likely fail because it fails to recognize the reasons for China’s falling birth rate.
“People are being held back not by the two-child limit, but by the incredibly high costs of raising children in China today,” NYU Shanghai sociologist Yifei Li told Reuters. “An effective policy should have provided more social support and welfare. Raising the limit itself is unlikely to tip the scales significantly. “
Shuang Ding, chief economist at Standard Chartered Bank, said the government should allow families to choose the number of children they want without any restrictions.
“A fully liberalized birth policy should have been implemented at least five years ago, but it is too late now, even if it is better late than never,” he told Reuters.
Numerous comments on China’s social media platform, Weibo, echoed these statements.
“The question is not how many children it takes. It’s a question of whether the cost of childcare can be reduced, ”wrote one user.
The Associated Press, Vincent wan and Reuters contributed.