Political advisers to the government have proposed more than 20 ideas to increase birth rates in response to concerns over China’s declining population, however experts say the best they can hope to achieve is a slowing of the population decrease.
China’s one-child policy, which was in place between 1980 and 2015, contributed significantly to the country’s demographic crisis. Authorities increased the cap to three in 2021, although even during the COVID (stay at home) era, couples resisted having children.
Young people mention expensive childcare and education costs, low earnings, a feeble social safety net and gender inequality, as discouraging reasons.
At the People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) of China’s annual meeting this month, a number of proposals were made to increase the birth rate, including expanding free public education, increasing access to fertility treatments, and providing subsidies for families raising their first child rather than just the second or third.
Once statistics revealed that China’s population was shrinking for the first time in six decades last year, experts saw the sheer volume of recommendations as an indication that the country was confronting its ageing and deteriorating demographics with urgency.
The falling trend cannot be reversed, according to Xiujian Peng, senior research researcher at Victoria University in Australia’s Centre of Policy Studies. “Yet, fertility will continue to drop in the absence of any policy to stimulate it.”
In order to prevent women from being overworked, Peng said Jiang Shengnan’s proposal that young people work only eight hours each day so they had time to “fall in love, get married, and have children” was crucial.
According to her, offering rewards for a first child could persuade couples to have at least one child. Currently, only the second and third children are supported by several provinces.
The lowest birth rate ever recorded in China was 6.77 births per 1,000 people in 2017, down from 7.52 births in 2021.
Because of a declining labour force and increased spending on the elderly by insolvent local governments, demographers predict that China will become rich before it becomes young.
A suggestion to eliminate all family planning restrictions, such as the three-child cap and the necessity that women be legally married in order to register their children, was also well received by experts.
Financial incentives are insufficient, according to Arjan Gjonca, an associate professor at the London School of Economics, and policies that prioritise gender equality and greater employment opportunities for women are more likely to have a significant influence.
Experts added that boosting paternity leave removes a barrier for fathers to take on greater parental obligations, while CPPCC suggestions like maternity leave paid by the government rather than the employer will help reduce discrimination against women.
Yi Fuxian, a demographer, is still doubtful that any actions will be effective on their own because China needs a “paradigm change of its entire economy, society, and political system.”