Beijing, China: China has further relaxed its family planning policy to allow couples to have a maximum of three children after a recent census showed its population is rapidly aging, state media Xinhua reported Monday.
“To actively respond to the aging of the population… a couple can have three children,” Xinhua said, citing a Monday meeting of China’s elite Politburo leadership committee hosted by President Xi Jinping.
The major change in China’s famous one-child policy comes on the heels of its census, which found the nation’s population has risen at its slowest rate in decades, reaching 1.41 billion people, raising concerns about a looming crisis due to an aging society.
For almost 40 years, China enforced a controversial “one-child policy” — one of the strictest family planning regulations worldwide — which was relaxed in 2016 to a “two-child policy” due to widespread concerns over an aging workforce and economic stagnation.
Despite government efforts to encourage couples to have children, China’s annual births have continued to plummet to a record low of 12 million in 2020, the National Bureau of Statistics said last month.
That threatens a demographic crisis that has alarmed the ruling Communist Party headed by President Xi Jinping, booking in a shortage of young workers to drive economy experts to say will by 2050 have to support hundreds of millions of elderly.
“To actively respond to the aging of the population … a couple can have three children,” Xinhua said, citing a Monday meeting of China’s elite Politburo leadership committee hosted by President Xi.
China’s fertility rate stands at 1.3 — below the level needed to maintain a stable population, the National Bureau of Statistics revealed.
The once-in-a-decade 2020 census results published last month also showed that China’s population grew at its slowest rate since the 1960s, reaching 1.41 billion.
It comes alongside a sharp drop in the number of working-age people, once again raising fears of a looming demographic crisis.
China’s gender balance has also been skewed by decades of the one-child policy, and a traditional social preference for boys which prompted a generation of sex-selective abortions and abandoned baby girls.
Although the policy has been relaxed in the last few years, this has not prompted a baby boom as policymakers had hoped.
Falling marriage rates in recent years have played out in slower birth rates, as have rising costs of living and increasingly empowered and educated women delaying or avoiding childbirth.
The demographic shift in China has significant economic and political implications for the world’s second-biggest economy.
A third of the Chinese are forecast to be elderly by 2050, heaping huge pressure on the state to provide pensions and healthcare.
Owing to declining birth rates and a dramatic decline in the number of working-age people, growth slowed to 5.4 percent, the slowest since the 1960s.
This is a breaking story. More to follow.