A birth rate that has crashed to .88 children per woman and a population ageing fast have led officials in the Chinese coastal city of Shanghai to start knocking on doors to get couples to have more children. But they are still straight-jacketed by the national one-child policy, so only certain “eligible” couples can expect a visit along with counselling and financial advice.

The policy already allows couples to have two children if, for example, they belong to an ethnic minority or if they are both only children. But now, that permission looks like becoming a “duty to the Party”, or at least to the city.

“We just hope more people can have a second child because for Shanghai, as a city which started family planning quite early, the process of ageing is fast,” said Zhang Meixin of the Shanghai population and family planning commission. “If eligible couples have two children, it might help to relieve the pressure.”

Chinese demographers and officials increasingly acknowledge that the government’s draconian population control policy is having severe unforseen effects. By suppressing births while life expectancy is increasing they have accelerated the ageing of the population.

Earlier this year the US-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies warned that China would have more than 438 million over-60s by 2050. Each would have just 1.6 working-age adults to support them, compared with 7.7 in 1975.

But, as other Asian countries have discovered, it is no simple matter to get urban couples to have more children. Far from longing to have a second or third child, many Chinese in the cities are either indifferent to the idea of more children or scared of the cost. The Guardian quotes one woman:

“I don’t want a second child. One is enough, and I hope it is a girl, said expectant mother Yu Nan, 25. “It is very nice to be the only child; you don’t need to share or grab things from others. You can have all your parents’ attention. My parents have brothers and sisters, but when my grandparents died they quarrelled over the legacy. That was horrible and hurtful. Being the only child, you won’t have those problems.”

A sociologist says it may take incentives such as child benefits to encourage more births.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet