China decided, Monday, May 31, to remove the limit of two children per couple in the hope of restarting the birth rate in the most populous country in the world. The move comes a few weeks after the publication of the results of the last decennial census, which revealed a sharp drop in the birth rate in the most populous country in the world.
If Beijing has resolved to liberalize its family policy, it maintains a limit: no more than three children per couple. “In response to the aging of the population (…), a couple is allowed to have three children ”, the official China New News Agency reported on Monday, citing the conclusions of a meeting of the Communist Party’s political bureau headed by President Xi Jinping. This policy must be accompanied by “Support measures” to families, added the press agency, citing, without further details, maternity leave, pediatric care and lower costs of education.
At the beginning of May, the results of the census carried out in 2020 revealed a faster aging than expected of the Chinese population. Last year, marked by the Covid-19 epidemic, the number of births fell to twelve million, against 14.65 million in 2019. That year, the birth rate (10.48 per 1,000) was already at its lowest since the founding of Communist China in 1949.
In 2016, after more than three decades of “One-child policy”, China had relaxed its rules, allowing all Chinese to have a second child. But without succeeding in restarting the birth rate.
There are many reasons for the drop in the birth rate: a drop in the number of marriages, an increase in the cost of housing and education, later fertility for women, who give more priority to their careers, excess of the number of men compared to women because of the traditional preference for male children…
Raising the retirement age
At the other end of the age pyramid, China had more than 264 million people aged 60 and over last year, four times the total population of France. This age group now constitutes 18.7% of the total, an increase of 5.44 percentage points compared to the 2010 census. Conversely, the working-age population (15 to 59 years) does not represent more than 63.35% of the total, down 6.79 points over ten years.
In March, parliament voted on a plan to gradually raise the retirement age over the next five years, much to the chagrin of much public opinion. Details of this policy have not been disclosed.
Demographers have warned the country against a Japanese-style or South Korean-style development, with a decline in the population and an excess of old people compared to young and working people. In the meantime, population growth has slowed considerably. According to the last census, the most populous country in the world officially had 1.411 billion inhabitants at the end of 2020. Compared to the previous count, in 2010 the population increased by only 5.38% (or 0.53 % on average per year), its smallest increase since the 1960s.
At this rate, China could be dispossessed more quickly than expected by India of its title as the world’s largest population: the great neighbor to the South should have 1.38 billion inhabitants in 2020, according to United Nations estimates. Until now, Beijing has forecast its population growth curve to peak in 2027, when India overtakes it. The Chinese population would then begin to decrease to reach 1.32 billion inhabitants in 2050.
Voices have been raised in recent years to abolish any limit on the number of children per family, but the Communist regime has refused to lift controls in this area.