China’s birthrate down from initial ‘2-child’ boom, but higher than most recent years

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The birthrate in China fell last year despite the country easing its family planning policies and allowing all couples to have two children, a finding that some parents say reflects the stresses of urban life. 

There were 17.2 million births in the country last year, down from 17.9 million in 2016, the National Bureau of Statistics reported Thursday. 

China changed its longstanding one-child policy in 2015 in hopes of increasing the size of the younger working population that will eventually have to support elders. The number of births rose nearly eight per cent in 2016, with nearly half being the babies of couples who already had a child.

The 2017 total is still much higher than any other year this century since 2000. The birthrate fell below 16 million per year on five separate occasions this century.

The decision to not have a second child appears affected by the trend toward later marriage, the desire for smaller families and concerns about the high cost of raising children.

Studies have predicted the loosening of the one-child policy would bring only a relatively small increase in population growth. Experts have recommended the country increase its retirement age to address an expected labour shortage and declining economic vitality.

The burden of looking after aging parents is one reason not to have a second child, said Zeng Jialin, a stay-at-home mom who was waiting to pick up her six-year-old son outside a school in downtown Beijing on Friday.

“They helped us look after one child, but we would have to babysit the second one ourselves. Also, there would be so many things to take care of in terms of time management, economic conditions and pressure,” Zeng said.

Skewed male-female ratio

Wang Jianjun, the father of an eight-year-old boy, said he was undecided about having another child, but time and financial concerns weighed heavily.

“Helping with schoolwork takes a lot of time. And until the young one is two, mother won’t be able to work, which means a big loss of income that we’re not prepared for,” Wang said.

China enacted its one-child policy in 1979, enforced with fines and state-mandated abortions in some cases. The expected future reduction in the working-age population is exacerbated by a skewed male-female birth ratio resulting from the traditional preference for male offspring.

With almost 1.4 billion people, China has the world’s largest population, but it is aging quickly even before reaching its expected peak of 1.45 billion in 2029. By that time, experts expect India will have surpassed China as the world’s most populous nation.

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China’s birthrate down from initial ‘2-child’ boom, but higher than most recent years

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