© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Children play on a waterfront in Shekou, Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, China, March 15, 2021. REUTERS / David Kirton
By Tony Munroe and David Stanway
BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese couples can have up to three children, China said Monday, in a significant shift from the existing line of two after recent data showed a dramatic drop in births in the world’s most populous country.
Beijing abolished its decade-long one-child policy in 2016 and replaced it with a two-child limit to avert risks to its economy from a rapidly aging population. However, given the high cost of raising children in Chinese cities, this did not result in a sustained surge in births, a challenge that continues to this day.
The policy change will be accompanied by “supportive measures that are conducive to improving the population structure of our country and fulfill the country’s strategy of actively dealing with an aging population,” said the official Xinhua news agency after a Politburo meeting chaired by President Xi Jinping.
Under these measures, China will reduce education costs for families, increase taxes and housing benefits, guarantee the legal interests of working women and take action against “sky-high” dowries, it said without further information. It would also try to educate young people “about marriage and love”.
China had a birth rate of just 1.3 children per woman in 2020, recent data showed, on par with aging societies like Japan and Italy and well below the roughly 2.1 births required for replacement levels.
“People are not being held back by the two-child limit, but by the incredibly high cost of raising children in China today. Accommodation, after-school activities, food, trips and everything else add up quickly, ”Yifei Li, a sociologist at NYU Shanghai, told Reuters.
“In my view, raising the limit itself is unlikely to change anyone’s calculations in a meaningful way.”
Zhang Xinyu, a 30-year-old mother of one from Zhengzhou, capital of Henan Province, said the problem is that women have most of the responsibility for raising children.
“If men could do more to raise the child, or if families could be more considerate of women who have just had children, a lot of women could actually have a second child,” she told Reuters.
“… But when I look at the big picture, realistically I don’t want to have a second child. And a third is even more impossible.”
In a poll on Xinhua’s Weibo account (NASDAQ 🙂 asking #AreYouReady about the three-child policy, about 29,000 out of 31,000 respondents said they “would never think of it” while the rest said one of the Options chose: “I am ready and very and eager for it”, “It is on my agenda” or “I hesitate and there is a lot to consider”.
The poll was later removed.
“I am ready to have three children if you give me 5 million yuan ($ 785,650),” wrote one user.
The share prices of birth and fertility-related companies rose sharply.
‘IT’S TOO LATE NOW’
Earlier this month, a once-a-decade census showed the slowest growth in population over the past decade since the 1950s, at 1.41 billion, fueling concerns that China would get old before it gets rich, as well as criticism that it had waited too long to handle the declining births.
“This is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, but it is still a bit timid,” Shuang Ding, chief economist at Standard Chartered (OTC 🙂 in Hong Kong, told Reuters.
“A fully liberalized birth policy should have been in place at least five years ago, but now it’s too late, even though it’s better late than never,” he said.
China’s Politburo also announced on Monday that it would gradually move the retirement age, but did not provide any details.
According to a statement from the Weihai City government late last year, fines of 130,000 yuan (US $ 20,440) were imposed on those who had a third child.
Fearing a population explosion, China implemented its one-child policy in 1979, which successfully slowed population growth, but also led to forced sterilization and gender-selective abortions, which exacerbated the gender imbalance as many parents preferred male children.
A study published earlier this year by scientists at Zhejiang University and Beijing Normal University found that the two-child policy encouraged wealthier couples who had already had one child and were “less sensitive to the cost of parenting” while the cost of Childcare and Education and Discouragement of First Parents.
Su Meizhen, a human resources manager in Beijing, said she was “super happy” to be pregnant with her third child.
“We don’t have to pay the fine and we can get a hukou,” she said, referring to the city residency permit, which allows families to receive benefits, including placing their children in local public schools.
(Corrects the assignment of academic work in Paragraph 22 to Zhejiang University and Beijing Normal University, not Hangzhou University)