China said it will end its two-child policy and allow married couples to have up to three children, The New York Times reports.
The move comes as China faces declining birth rates that threaten a demographic crisis after the country’s longstanding limits on reproduction threatened its future. The country faces a shrinking labor pool and an aging population.
China in 2016 eased its one-child policy to allow couples to have up to three kids. But few families have done so due to the rising cost of education and the cost of supporting aging parents, as well as lack of daycare options and grueling work schedules.
Along with easing the limit on children, the Chinese Communist Party said it would also improve maternity leave and workplace protections in an effort to make it easier for couples to have more children.
Birthrates keep dropping:
Despite easing the one-child policy, the country’s birth rates have continued to decline.
The average couple now has 1.3 children, well below the 2.1 replacement rate, pointing to a shrinking population.
China’s restrictions date back to 1980 when lawmakers sought to slow a population boom. The resulting policy led to countless forced abortions and sterilizations.
The country’s central bank last year warned that the government could no longer afford to restrict reproduction.
But the longstanding policy has turned into a cultural shift for some.
“No matter how many babies they open it up to, I’m not going to have any because children are too troublesome and expensive,” Li Shan, a 26-year-old product manager at an internet company in Beijing, told the Times. “I’m impatient and worried that I won’t be able to educate the child well.”
Not enough, experts say:
“Opening it up to three children is far from enough,” Huang Wenzheng, a demography expert with the Center for China and Globalization, told the Times. “It should be fully liberalized, and giving birth should be strongly encouraged.”
“This should be regarded as a crisis for the survival of the Chinese nation, even beyond the pandemic and other environmental issues,” he added. “There should never have been a birth restriction policy in the first place. So it’s not a question of whether this is too late.”
“The decision makers have probably realized that the population situation is relatively severe,” He Yafu, an independent demographer, told the outlet. “But merely opening up the policy to three children and not encouraging births as a whole, I don’t think there will be a significant increase in the fertility rate. Many people don’t want to have a second child, let alone a third child.”