HONG KONG, March 15 (Reuters) – Concerned about China’s shrinking population, government political advisers have made more than 20 recommendations to increase birth rates, though experts say the best they can do is to reverse the decline in the birth rate. population slow down.
China has largely dug itself into a demographic hole through its one-child policy imposed between 1980 and 2015. Authorities increased the limit to three in 2021, but even during COVID stay-at-home times, couples have been reluctant to have babies.
Young people cite high costs for childcare and education, low incomes, a weak social safety net and inequality between men and women as discouraging factors.
The proposals to increase the birth rate, made this month at the annual meeting of China’s People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), range from subsidies for families raising their first child, rather than just the second and third, to expanding of free public education and improving access to fertility treatments.
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Experts take the sheer number of proposals as a positive sign that China is urgently addressing its aging and shrinking demographics after data showed its population declined for the first time in six decades last year.
“You can’t change the downward trend,” said Xiujian Peng, a senior research fellow at the Center of Policy Studies at Australia’s Victoria University. “But without any policies to encourage fertility, fertility will decline even further.”
A motion by CPPCC member Jiang Shengnan that young people work only eight hours a day so they have time to “fall in love, get married and have children” was critical to ensuring that women are not overworked, Peng said.
Giving incentives to have a first child could encourage couples to have at least one child, she said. Many counties currently only subsidize second and third children.
To help ease the pressure on young families, the National Health Commission (NHC) issued draft rules on Wednesday that would allow qualified individuals to conduct day care activities for up to five children up to three years old.
China’s birth rate fell to 6.77 births per 1,000 people last year, from 7.52 births in 2021, the lowest on record.
Demographers warn that China will grow old rather than rich as its workforce shrinks and indebted local governments spend more on their elderly population.
Experts also praised a proposal to scrap all family planning measures, including the three-child limit and the requirement that women must be legally married to register their children.
Arjan Gjonca, an associate professor at the London School of Economics, said financial incentives were not enough and policies aimed at gender equality and better labor rights for women were likely to have more impact.
CPPCC proposals such as maternity leave paid by the government rather than the employer would help reduce discrimination against women, while increasing paternity leave would remove a barrier to fathers taking on more parenting responsibilities, experts said.
Demographer Yi Fuxian remains skeptical that measures would have a significant impact on their own, saying China needed a “paradigm revolution of its entire economy, society, politics and diplomacy to boost fertility.”
Reporting by Farah Master, additional reporting by Albee Zhang; Edited by Marius Zaharia and Simon Cameron-Moore
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