The end of China’s one-child policy has led to more births, but not enough to prevent the rapid aging of the population. In the next five years, the number of births will range between 17 and 20 million a year. The government should eliminate population controls.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Caixin) – Proposed incentives for couples to have a second child – including tax breaks and extra maternity leave – won’t lead to a significant increase in China’s birth rate, renowned demographer Liang Zhongtang said.
His comments come amid growing concerns about the nation’s aging population, and government discussions on correcting the problem.
Enticements were proposed in Beijing this week at the National People’s Congress, which coincided with a gathering of top government advisers. The goal is to ease the financial burden on couples seeking a second child.
Liang however doubts that incentives will be enough to prompt couples to have a second child because young Chinese women are inclined to have only one child — or none at all.
Liang, a long-time critic of the government’s family planning policies, wants the authorities to let couples have more than two children or simply remove themselves from family planning entirely.
If subsidies don’t work, “why can’t the government just scratch the family planning policy altogether, as we want to see more babies born in China?” he said.
Liang, a Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences professor, is a former member of a consulting body to the National Health and Family Planning Commission.
China eased its decades-long limit of one child per couple in 2014, when it allowed couples to have a second child if one of the parents was an only child.
Previously, both parents had to be only children to be allowed to have a second child. Last year, the government began allowing all couples to have two children.
Since then, the number of births rose by 1.31 million — or about 8 per cent — to 18.76 million in 2016 over the previous year. Of all of the births, about 45 per cent, or 8 million, were the second child of a couple, according to the commission.
The National Health Commission predicts that the number of new births will fluctuate between 17 and 20 million each year over the next five years.
The number of children each woman has in her prime childbearing years, defined as 15 to 49 years old, will rise from the current level of 1.4 to 1.6 to about 1.8, according to a study by Liang Jiangzhang, a demographics commentator, and Huang Wenzheng, a Johns Hopkins University demographics researcher.
According to the two demographers, that level is still below the international level of 2.1 children per woman in the childbearing-age needed to sustain the country’s population of 1.4 billion.
The increase in the birth rate in China is largely due to a rush of women deciding to have a second baby before they are too old to give birth, Liang Zhongtang noted.
The increase in the average number of children women have will level off in the coming year and will not help avert the aging of the population, he added.
As of the end of 2015, more than 16 per cent of China’s population was 60 or older, while 10.5 per cent was older than 65, this according to official statistics.