Facing demographic winter, the country that once limited families to one child takes another baby step.
For years, enforcement of China’s one-child-per-family policy could be as cruel as forcing women into abortion or sterilizations.
Then, in 2016, the People’s Republic eased up on the limit, allowing two children per family in many cases.
Now, in the wake of reports that many parts of the world might be on the brink of a “demographic winter,” the Chinese Comunist Party has announced that it would allow all married couples to have three children.
The move is an acknowledgment that China faces serious problems if current trends continue. “The labor pool is shrinking and the population is graying, threatening the industrial strategy that China has used for decades to emerge from poverty to become an economic powerhouse,” wrote New York Times correspondent Sui-Lee Wee on Monday. “Births in China have fallen for four consecutive years, including in 2020, when the number of babies born dropped to the lowest since the Mao era. The country’s total fertility rate — an estimate of the number of children born over a woman’s lifetime — now stands at 1.3, well below the replacement rate of 2.1, raising the possibility of a shrinking population over time.”
Will the move make a difference? Some experts are wary.
“Opening it up to three children is far from enough,” Beijing-based demographer Huang Wenzheng told the Times. “It should be fully liberalized, and giving birth should be strongly encouraged.”
But the news was welcomed by Yolanda Ouyang, a 39-year-old employee at a state-owned enterprise in the region of Guangxi. She had an unauthorized third child two years ago and has kept him hidden because she feared that she would be fired.
“I’m so happy and so shocked,” Ouyang told the Times. “Finally, my child can come outside and play out in the open.”
Some parents and married couples, however, greeted the announcement with a shrug, saying the high cost of living already strongly discourages them from having more children.