China is aging rapidly even though the one-child policy was lifted

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, there were 630,000 fewer births in 2017. After the government decided in 2015 to allow couples to have two children, family planning officials predicted annual births would reach 20 million, and China’s population would rise to 1.45 billion from the current 1.39 billion, creating a stable labour force for economic growth.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Chinese couples are not having a second child even though the government lifted its own-child policy.

Some 630,000 fewer babies were born in China in 2017 than the year before, the National Bureau of Statistics reported.

A mini baby boom materialised in 2016 with 1.31 million more babies born compared with the previous year, but the number of births – 17.86 million – still fell short of the official forecast of 18 million.

Experts are now proposing incentives, such as tax breaks and subsidies, to encourage couples to have a second child.

However, with education and housing costs up, many couples — at least so far — have not embraced the idea of increasing their family size. Moreover, three decades of one-child policy have created a mindset hard to change.

The lower-than-expected figure is disappointing for the government after it decided to end its one-child policy in 2015 and allow all couples to have two children.

Family planning officials had forecast that the policy change could push annual new births up to 20 million.

They also expected that by 2030, China’s population would reach 1.45 billion, up from today’s 1.39 billion, creating a stable workforce needed for economic growth.

The latest data show that China’s working age population, aged 16 to 59, totaled 902 million, or 64.8 per cent of the total population. That is more than 5 million fewer in that age bracket than last year.

Meanwhile, people older than 65 numbered 158 million by the end of 2017, accounting for 11.4 per cent of the population, and 8 million more than in 2016.

For Liang Jianzhang, a professor at Peking University's Guanghua School of Management, and Huang Wenzheng, a demographer at Johns Hopkins University, China is headed toward a population cliff at a faster pace than they had expected.

The two previously estimated that China’s birth rate would start a sharp decline in 2018, with an annual drop of between 300,000 and 800,000 in the next ten years.

According to the World Health Organisation, a country is considered to have an aging population when the percentage of people over 65 years old reaches 7 per cent of the population. When this number has surpassed 14 per cent, it has already become an aged society.