NewsThe one-child policy made China an aging country

The one-child policy made China an aging country

In five years, China has buried its one-child policy. In 2016, Beijing replaced it with a limit of two children to avoid risks to its economy from the rapidly aging population.

But it has not been enough to stop the decline in births in China. Earlier this month, a census taken once a decade showed that in the past ten years the population grew at its slowest rate since the 1950s, to 1.410 million, fueling concern that China would age sooner. to get rich.

It also sparked criticism about how the Chinese government waited too long to address declining births.

“A step in the right direction, but it’s still a bit shy,” Shuang Ding, chief economist at Standard Chartered in Hong Kong, told Reuters. “A fully liberalized birth policy should have been implemented at least five years ago, but now it is too late, although better late than never.”

The Politburo also indicated that it would gradually raise the retirement age, but did not elaborate.

Demographers warned of the risk of a Japanese or South Korean evolution, with a decline in the population and an excess of older people relative to the young and the economically active population.

The decline in the fertility rate and longer life expectancy have caused those over 60 to already make up 18.7% of the total population in China, and the figure is expected to rise to 28% by 2040, according to the World Organization Of the health.

Late last year, fines of 130,000 yuan ($ 20,440) were imposed for having a third child, according to a government notice in Weihai City.

This is a review of four decades of family policy in the most populous country in the world.

The one-child policy

At the end of the 1970s, Chinese leaders discovered to their amazement that the country’s population is close to 1 billion, almost double that of 1949, when the Communists came to power (969 million in 1979 compared to 540 million thirty years earlier. ).

Fearing a population explosion, China introduced its one-child policy in 1979, which slowed population growth, but also led to forced sterilizations and sex-selective abortions that exacerbated the gender imbalance, as many they preferred male children.

The policy was also criticized for the consequences it has had on the sociological evolution of the country: the generation of “little emperors” has grown up without knowing what it is to have a brother or sister, cousins, uncles and aunts.

The number of births plunged: the fertility rate (the number of children for every woman of childbearing age) fell to 1.6 in the late 1990s, up from 5.9 in 1970. Beijing claimed that its policy prevented 400 million births.

The first opening

Despite the risk of aging of its population, the communist regime hesitated to liberalize its policy, for fear of causing a population explosion. In the end, in 2013, it authorized those couples whose two components are an only child to have two children.

But two years later, only 1.45 million couples had submitted an application to have a second child, that is, only 15% of the population that could use the measure.

In 2016, Beijing decided to allow all couples to have two children. But the cost of education is high, the apartments are small, and with the evolution of lifestyle and customs, the Chinese are increasingly marrying later and divorcing more. The birth rate does not take off.

But that new policy was not enough to reactivate the free-falling birth rate for several reasons.

In 2020, the number of births fell for the fourth consecutive year, with 12 million compared to 14.65 in 2019, while the fertility rate remained at 1.3 children per woman, below the 2.1 estimated by the United Nations to maintain a population stable.

Among those reasons why this measure was not enough are the decrease in marriages, the increase in the cost of housing and education, the later fertility of women who privilege their professional careers, an excess of the number of men in relation to women.

“Personally, I don’t want children, not even one,” the same “among my friends,” a 27-year-old woman from Zhejiang province (east), who identified herself as Wendy, told AFP.

Last year, the number of births even fell to 12 million, its lowest level since 1961.

A study published earlier this year by academics at Hangzhou University found that the two-child policy favored wealthier couples who already had a child and were “less sensitive to the costs of parenting,” while increasing the costs of caring for and educating children and discouraging first-time parents.

Three children per family, and the incentives?

On May 31, 2021, the Communist Party announced that families will be able to have three children, three weeks after the decennial census (2020) was published, which revealed a rapid aging of the population.

Ye Liu, an international development specialist at King’s College London, told AFP that the new policy has “little chance” of success because the government “puts the responsibility of the aging population on families without concrete financial commitments.”

The researcher assures that “in China there are still widespread misogynistic practices, such as that there are companies that require women not to become pregnant at the same time. Or that when they return from their motherhood many are marginalized and without the opportunity to progress.”

“It is necessary to legislate if you want women to have more babies and also work,” he says.

It is also necessary, he adds, that the country increase spending on early childhood, which “is only 0.4% of GDP.”

According to the Chinese Ministry of Education, only about 4.71% of children admitted to kindergartens in 2019 were under 3 years old, well below the European Union average of 35%.

Social media users reacted skeptically to the measures today, with many anticipating that couples simply cannot afford more children given high housing and education prices, as well as endless working hours.

Many couples have to turn to their grandparents to take care of their children because of the inability to pay for childcare: “A working family cannot hire a nanny who costs about 6,000 yuan a month, which represents more than half of their income, “a mother recently commented to the South China Morning Post .

With information from AFP and EFE

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