“We will fully relax the policy” in two years after an experiment allowing some couples to have a second baby, Cai Fang, a vice director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the government’s research arm, said in a brief interview yesterday after a speech in Beijing. “People wish to choose the number of children they want to have, and they should be given the choice, at least for two children.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping relaxed China’s family-planning policy last year by allowing couples to have two children if either parent is an only child. The change failed to deliver a baby boom in the world’s most populous country — less than 3 percent of the 11 million Chinese couples eligible for another child applied for permission in the first six months, according to data from the National Health & Family Planning Commission.
China had 690,000 couples seeking approval for a second child by the end of August and 620,000 were granted, according to a statement from the nation’s family planning commission.
Cai said allowing second children won’t significantly raise the fertility rate to bolster a population the United Nations predicts will start shrinking by 2030. China’s fertility rate of 1.66 per woman compares with the 2.1 level needed to sustain population levels, according to the UN.
Estimates by Chinese officials and some scholars had suggested the relaxation in policy may lead to an increase of up to 2 million births per year, possibly a 10 percent increase – increasing China’s fertility rate from the current 1.6 births per woman to about 1.8 births per woman.
However, it appears the effect is 30-50% of that level.
If China decided to further relax to a “two-child policy,” the number of additional births might reach 5 million annually, with the fertility rate perhaps rising to replacement level. However, the 30-50% level would mean about 2 to 2.5 million added.
With such a rise in fertility, the medium variant, China’s population would peak at 1.45 billion in 2030 and then decline to around 1 billion by the century’s close.
Fully lifting the child restriction policies now might get the additional 5 million births to reach replacement level.
Under the instant replacement scenario, China’s future population does not decline, but stabilizes around 1.6 billion by mid-century. The Chinese population, however, would still age, with the proportion elderly increasing to a fifth and the potential support ratio falling to three working-age persons per retiree.
Creating financial and social incentives to have children (as in Singapore) could have a further mild boosting effect.
The most effective policy to boost fertility is to provide low cost child care. Effective fertility boosting policies are ones that provide flexible work practices that make it easier for women to rejoin the work force after taking time off for child-rearing.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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