The consequences of the one-child policy continue to live with China. The latest demographic news from the world’s largest country is that its birthrate has dropped to its lowest level since the Communist Party took power in 1949. According to Al-Jazeera, the latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics has recently released data for 2019 which shows that the birthrate stood at 10.48 births per 1000 people, down slightly from the year before. The absolute number of babies born is also falling – there were 14.65 million Chinese babies born in 2019, the third consecutive year that that number has dropped. In fact the number of babies born in 2019 was the lowest number since 1961, the last year of the famine which left tens of millions of Chinese dead. That year, there were 11.8 million births.
This continuing decline in the birthrate and in the absolute number of babies born is happening even after the Communist government abolished the one child policy in 2015 and replaced it with a two child policy. Despite this doubling of the sanctioned number of children parents are allowed, the policy relaxation has not resulted in an increase of pregnancies. Many couples are reluctant to accept the cost of healthcare, education and housing for a larger family, while also having to look after their retiring parents (because they themselves have no siblings to share the load). There is also the small matter of the decades of relentless propaganda and societal pressure that enforced and normalized one-child families. As Yi Fuxian, a US-based academic at the University of Wisconsin-Madison notes, the one-child policy has resulted in a shift in the mindset of the population – everyone is used to small families, and no cousins, uncles, aunties or siblings. (And it should be noted that some Chinese couples are being punished for having three children even now – the control of the state over the number of children each family should have continues.)
While the birthrate is falling, the divorce rate is rising. In the first nine months of 2019 3.1 million Chinese couples filed for divorce, while 7.1 million couples got married. The outcome of all of this is that the Chinese population growth is slowing down (to 4.67 million more people in 2019). Indeed some, like Fuxian, argue that these official figures are overestimated and that China’s population of 1.4 billion people already began to decline in 2018.
Even the official data shows that the working aged population (those aged 16 to 59 years old) is declining – there were nearly one million fewer Chinese in this age cohort in 2019 (896.4 million) than there were the year before. This is the eighth consecutive year of decline in the Chinese working age population. But 2050 this segment of the population is expected to decline by about a quarter. At a time when the economic growth rate is slowing (the official figures of 6.1 per cent GDP growth in 2019 was the slowest growth since 1990) the Chinese government will be concerned about these strong demographic headwinds in addition to weaker consumer demand and a trade war with the USA. A long term, slow drag on the Chinese economy is just one of the longterm consequences from the disastrous social engineering experiment that was the one child policy.
Marcus Roberts is co-editor of Demography is Destiny, MercatorNet’s blog on population issues.