Shanghai (AsiaNews) - The drop in China's working age population stems from the desire of many women to develop their careers and the rising cost of bringing up children. In view of this, "qualified young couples" should have one or two children as soon as possible, said Fan Hua, director of the Family Development Bureau of Shanghai's Population and Family Planning Commission.
Forgetting 35 years of China's infamous one-child policy, Fan was quoted as saying that the benefits of having a second child included family stability and social development, the Oriental Morning Post reported.
Speaking on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the Shanghai People's Congress (City Council), he noted that Commission figures showed that less than five per cent of eligible women applied for a permit to have a second child, a figure that is too low and a risk for society.
According to the Population and Family Planning Commission, Shanghai will be the first big Chinese cities to face this population dilemma. By the end of this year, nearly 30 per cent of the population, or 4.35 million, will be aged 60 or above. Unless this changes and the birth rate picks up, fewer workers will be able to fund pensions and social programmes.
Since 1979, China has implemented - often violently - a policy of one child per family, to boost the nation's economic development. Later, ethnic minorities and rural residents were allowed to have two children if the first child was a girl.
However, the law has often been enforced violently with huge fines imposed on violators as well as forced sterilisation and near-term abortions.
In addition, family planning officials have enjoyed benefits upholding the law and quotas, a situation that has led to corruption and abuses of power.
Under more flexible rules adopted in December 2013, couples in which one partner is already an only child can now have two children.
Initially, the new policy has been limited geographically. Residents in Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing and those of the provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Anhui, Sichuan, Guangdong and Jiangsu were the first to benefit from the new legislation. This year, more provinces will follow, except for Tibet and Xinjiang.
In order to avoid short-term negative consequences, some demographers have called on the government to loosen control on internal migration and allow workers from other provinces to settle in Shanghai.
In China, internal migratory flows are restricted by the hukou, the country's household registration system that guarantees medical care and free education to Chinese citizens only in their place of birth.
"Capable workers would show their value in the market, especially in an ageing society," Liang Zhongtang, a demographic expert at Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.
"Only by reforming the hukou will young workers be able to stay in big cities and make a bigger economic contribution."