The South China Morning Post has published an opinion piece calling for China to confront “demographic reality” and adopt concerted measures to boost birthrates.
The latest official data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics indicates that the country’s birthrates declined in 2017, in the second year following the official cancellation of the One Child Policy.
In 2017 the number of infants born in China was 17.23 million, for a year-on-year decline of 630,000.
The number of births was well below even the “low-birth scenario” outlined by China’s National Commission of Healthy and Family Planning, which envisaged at least 20 million births in 2017 as a result of the launch of the new two-child policy.
According to an opinion piece by SCMP staff writer Zhou Xin, the culprit for China’s declining birthrates isn’t official policy restrictions, as much as the inexorable trend for people “to become less willing to have babies as their income has risen,” as already demonstrated by advanced economies such as Germany and Japan.
Zhou further notes that of the key factors underlying China’s economic growth miracle since the start of the reform period has been the “demographic dividend” of a huge labour force.
Declining birthrates and a rapid ageing of the population bode extremely poorly for China’s economic prospects in future, given that they will lead to a shrinkage in the labour force, declining consumption, and a heavier pension burden for society as a whole.
“The conventional wisdom, that China, the world’s most populous country, has too many people, is no longer valid,” writes Zhou.
“The harsh new reality faced by the authorities in Beijing is that China’s population is ageing at a faster rate than previously imagined and the country’s shortages of workers, students and babies are set to worsen at an alarming rate.”
For this reason Zhou believes that the entire calculus underlying China’s demographic policies must change, and Beijing should begin to boost the country’s birth-rates.
“The Chinese government must wake up to the country’s demographic reality and adopt policies to encourage child birth, such as direct subsidies for newborn babies and personal income tax deductions for parents.
“It is absurd to cap births when it’s obvious that more babies are needed. That absurdity must be ended as quickly as possible.”