For nearly 40 years, China enforced a controversial “one-child policy” – one of the strictest family planning regulations worldwide.
Beijing scrapped its one-child policy in 2016, replacing it with a two-child limit to try and stave off risks to its economy from a rapidly ageing population.
But that failed to result in a sustained surge in births given the high cost of raising children in Chinese cities, a challenge that persists to this day.
China’s annual births have continued to plummet to a record low of 12 million in 2020, the National Bureau of Statistics said last month.
Citing a Monday meeting of China’s elite Politburo leadership committee hosted by President Xi, Xinhua said:
To actively respond to the ageing of the population … a couple can have three children.
China’s fertility rate stands at 1.3 – below the level needed to maintain a stable population, the National Bureau of Statistics revealed.
The once-in-a-decade 2020 census results published last month also showed that China’s population grew at its slowest rate since the 1960s, reaching 1.41 billion.
It comes alongside a sharp drop in the number of working-age people, once again raising fears of a looming demographic crisis.
Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu reporting from Beijing said the release of the census data forced the hand of authorities. Said, Yu:
If things stay the same, China is heading for a looming demographic crisis. This has been on the minds of analysts and experts when it comes to China’s population for decades.
And that’s why we did see the 2016 change allowing couples to have two children. But it seems the two-child policy has failed to produce the result the Chinese government was hoping for.
However, Yifei Li, a sociologist at NYU Shanghai, told Reuters that the Chinese government may fail to achieve its goals as the high cost of raising children could hold couples back. Said Li:
People are held back not by the two-children limit, but by the incredibly high costs of raising children in today’s China.
Housing, extracurricular activities, food, trips, and everything else add up quickly.
Raising the limit itself is unlikely to tilt anyone’s calculus in a meaningful way, in my view.
China is the most populous nation on the planet, followed by India with 1.37 billion and the United States of America on 330 million people.