China will allow and actively encourage couples to have up to three children after a recent census showed the country was experiencing a sharp decline in birth rates.
The People's Republic of China famously introduced a “one-child policy” in the late 1970s and '80s in a push to control its booming population. The policy was complex and differed between different regions and social groups, but it generally encouraged couples to have just one child through a substantial financial penalty called "social child-raising fee.” It also used more nefarious means, such as coerced abortions and sterilization.
The policy ended in 2015, allowing couples to have two children after it was realized the policy was causing population numbers to slip too severely. Now, it has upped the ante even further and will encourage couples to have three children.
The move was announced at a meeting of the Political Bureau of Communist Party of China Central Committee held on May 31, 2021, according to state news agency Xinhua.
“Implementing the policy and its relevant supporting measures will help improve China's population structure, actively respond to the aging population, and preserve the country's human resource advantages,” the meeting said, per Xinhua. However, the specifics of the policy were not delved into.
The change in policy is generally welcomed, although sparked some mixed reactions on Chinese social media. While many encourage the shift and the apparent relaxation of rules, others argue that China should move towards full liberalization of the birth policy. Some experts also suggested the policy may be too little too late and will fail to address the real causes of the shrinking population.
“If relaxing the birth policy was effective, the current two-child policy should have proven to be effective too. But who wants to have three kids? Young people could have two kids at most. The fundamental issue is living costs are too high and life pressures are too huge,” Hao Zhou, a senior economist at Commerzbank Asia, told Reuters.
China’s population currently stands at approximately 1.41 billion, according to the country's latest census. While the population was found to have increased by 72.06 million people over the past decade, the census also noted the population was aging and experienced the slowest rate of growth in generations. The trend was comparable to countries with well-established aging populations, such as Japan and Italy.
Beyond China, the world’s population is set to start shrinking in just a few decades, the first time it’s done so since the Black Death in the mid-1300s. The global population is forecasted to grow over the next few decades and peak in 2064 at around 9.7 billion people, before falling to 8.8 billion by 2100. The reason behind this predicted global decline in population is multi-faceted, but it's underpinned by a trend towards lower birth rates, driven by female empowerment and access to contraception. The future is never set in stone, but it's clear the planet will see some monumental demographic shifts in the next few decades.