For more than 40 years, China has placed strict limits on the number of children married couples could have in an effort to preserve limited resources and drive the country’s economic growth. But confronted with a current “demographic crisis,” China’s childbirth restrictions appear to be easing.
Nicole Acevedo of NBC News has reported that “China will [now] allow married couples to legally have up to three children amid concerns that the number of working-age people in the world’s most populous country is falling too fast, consequently threatening its hopes of increased prosperity and global influence in the future.”
Chinese state media, known as the Xinhua news agency, reported that following a Communist Party Politburo meeting chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the country’s “Population and Family Planning Law” would officially be changing.
According to Acevedo, “the Communist Party has enforced birth limits since 1980 to restrain population growth. China’s declining birthrate is partially a result of a one-child policy imposed in 1979. The country long touted such policy as a success in preventing 400 million additional births, thus saving resources and helping drive economic growth.”
Families who broke the one-child law faced stiff fines and could even be fired from their jobs.
“In some cases, mothers were forced to have abortions or be sterilized,” Acevedo said. “A preference for sons also led parents to kill baby girls, leading to a massive imbalance in the sex ratio.”
In 2015, restrictions in the family planning law loosened up for the first time. Faced with a plummeting birth rate and declining numbers of working-age adults, the Chinese government decided couples could now have up to two children. But even that drastic policy change was apparently too little, too late and birthrates in the country continued to drop.
“Statistics show that there were 12 million births last year, down from 14.65 million in 2019, an 18% decline, continuing China’s descent to a near six-decade low,” Acevedo reported.
As those numbers declined, however, China’s senior citizen population continued to soar, reaching 264 million or approximately 18.7% of the country’s total population in 2020. That figure is 30% higher than senior-citizen levels from 2010.
“During that same time period, China’s working-age population fell to 63.3% of the total from 70.1% a decade ago,” Acevedo said. “A combination of these trends has caused an overwhelming fear that China will grow old before it becomes wealthy.”
In addition to changing laws on the number of children now legally allowed per family, the Chinese government is also making other drastic reforms, including increased calls for parental leave and childcare resources, as well as changes in government finance, taxation, schooling, housing and employment policies to further “ease the burden on families.”
Acevedo reported that the Chinese government “also seeks to address longstanding discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace that is considered one of the chief disincentives to having additional children.”