China’s ruling Communist Party said on Monday it would allow all married couples to have three children, ending a two-child policy that has failed to spur the country’s lower birth rates or resolve. an impending demographic crisis.
The move reflected concerns that the rapid rise in the number of elderly people in China could exacerbate a labor shortage and strain the economy in the near future.
The party made the announcement after a meeting of the Politburo, a prominent decision-making body. He said the decision “would improve the population structure of our country and help implement a national strategy to actively respond to the aging of the population.”
Chinese restrictions on family planning date back to 1980, when the party first imposed a “one child” policy to slow population growth and support the economic boom that was only just beginning.
In 2013, as Chinese authorities began to understand the implications of the country’s aging population, the government allowed parents with one-child families to have two children of their own. Two years later, the limit was increased to two children for everyone, effective January 1, 2016.
Demographers in China have long pushed for the government to drop all birth restrictions, but Beijing has acted slowly despite signs that the two-child policy is not working. Economic pressures and acceptance by many families that having a child is the norm have led to lower birth rates, and experts don’t expect any significant changes after Monday’s announcement.
Births in China have fallen for four consecutive years, including in 2020, when the number of babies born fell to the lowest since the Mao era. The country’s total fertility rate – an estimate of the number of children born in a woman’s lifetime – now stands at 1.3, well below the replacement rate of 2.1.
However, the announcement surprised several experts.
“It was a bit sudden and earlier than expected,” said He Yafu, a freelance demographer based in southern China’s Zhanjiang city. “Policymakers have probably realized that the situation of the population is relatively dire.”
China’s rapidly aging population has started to put increasing pressure on the state. In Monday’s announcement, the party said it would increase funding to expand services to retirees across the country.
The number of young workers who have fueled the global factory is also declining. A three-child policy would help “maintain our country’s advantages in human resource endowment,” the Politburo said.
In 2020, the number of people aged 60 and over in China stood at 264 million, or about 18.7% of the population. That figure is expected to reach more than 300 million people, or about a fifth of the population, by 2025, according to the government.
The party’s announcement on Monday is likely to reignite long-standing complaints about the government’s invasive control over women’s bodies in China. On China’s popular social media platform Weibo, users were quick to post remarks criticizing the move as ineffective.
“Don’t they know that most young people are already tired enough just trying to feed themselves?” wrote one user, highlighting a common complaint about the rising cost of living.
The party, in describing the decision on Monday, recognized the need for broader changes that would allow couples to have more children. He also pledged to improve maternity leave and to “protect the rights and legitimate interests of women in employment”.
For decades, China’s restrictions on family planning allowed authorities to impose punitive fines on most couples who had more than one child and forcing hundreds of millions of Chinese women to have abortions or to have sex. undergo sterilization operations. Officials were fired for violating birth restrictions.