Nearly 18 months have passed since the Chinese government gave its people slightly more freedom by relaxing the horrendous one child policy and instituting a two child policy in its place. The change was to encourage people to have more children to boost birth rates and prevent a looming demographic decline which may see the country grow old before it grows rich. The annual population surveys from local governments have been released for last year which shows how the change has affected the Chinese birth and fertility rates. The results are mixed. In the poor, west-central provinces of Guangxi and Gansu (combined population of around 70 million people) the crude birth rates edged downwards slightly from 2015 to 2016. Conversely, the central provinces of Jiangxi and Shannxi (combined population of around 80 million people) saw their crude birth rates move upwards by 0.2 and 0.5 births per 1000 people respectively.
The fact that immediate, substantial increases in the birth rates have not materialised have led some provincial governments to call for more policies to encourage larger families. Hunan province’s statistics bureau said authorities should look at introducing: childcare subsidies; paternity as well as maternity leave; and additional days of leave for working parents to care for sick children. But others point to a deeper societal change in thinking that will need to be reversed to see any real improvement in the Chinese birth rate. The Financial Times reports:
“‘Women’s attitudes towards childbirth have undergone a fundamental change. It’s no longer the traditional view of “more children means more happiness”,’ said Jiang Quanbao, professor at Xi’an Jiaotong University’s Institute for Population and Development Studies. ‘Women are pursuing their own education and career development. The opportunity costs of having a second child are large.’”
Indeed, the one-child policy had so many exceptions that a large number of families already had the ability to have two children legally before the 2015 changes in policy, but chose not to do so, perhaps for the reasons described by Professor Jiang. Furthermore, according to Hu Xingdou, economics professor at Beijing Institute of Technology, rising costs for housing and education had increased the cost of raising children while the widening social security system had taken away some of the impulse towards having large families (security in one’s old age). If social attitudes to larger families do not change, then the Chinese government is worried about the increasing economic burden that an ageing economy will have. The working aged population of China (those aged 15 to 64) already peaked in 2013; the ratio of dependents to working-aged people began to rise in 2011. The concern is that there simply will not be enough money to fund the government’s current policies, without taking into account China’s severely underfunded pension system. China is getting old before it gets rich.