China's new three-child policy to drive population growth

Wang Qingchu
China relaxed its two-child policy by announcing it will support couples who wish to have a third child to tackle the aging population and optimize the population structure.
Wang Qingchu

China further relaxed its two-child policy by announcing it will support couples who wish to have a third child to tackle the aging population and optimize the population structure, according to a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee on Monday.

In an interview with Xinhua news agency, the National Health Commission explained the reasons why the number of newborns has dropped in recent years and what supporting policies can be expected.

Q: On what consideration did China propose to support families to have a third child?

A: China is in the process of transforming from a country with a huge population to one with strong human capital. Allowing each couple to have three children can maximize the drive of population growth to social and economic development, and actively respond to the risk of continued decline in fertility levels.

Q: In recent years, China has made several adjustments to its birth policy. What effect have these policies had?

A: In 2013, China allowed couples to have a second child if either parent is an only child, and in 2016 allowed all married couples to have two children, phasing out the one-child policy.

According to the seventh national census, the proportion of children aged 0-14 has increased from 16.6 percent in 2010 to 17.95 percent in 2020. The proportion of the second child in the birth population has risen from about 30 percent in 2013 to about 50 percent in recent years. The sex ratio at birth dropped from 118 in 2013 to around 111 at present.

Q: Why has the birth population still declined in recent years even after China allowed all couples to have a second child?

A: The main reasons are as follows:

First, the number of women of childbearing age has decreased, and the age of marriage and childbearing has been delayed. During the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020), the number of women aged 20-34 decreased by 3.4 million annually on average and 3.66 million in 2020 year on year.

On the other hand, postponing the age of marriage and childbearing has resulted in fewer women giving birth during the current period. From 2006 to 2016, the average age of Chinese women's first marriage and first child birth was postponed from 23.6 years, 24.3 years to 26.3 years and 26.9 years, respectively. The proportion of women aged 20-34 who were married dropped from 75 percent to 67.3 percent.

In addition, the number of registered marriages nationwide has declined for seven consecutive years, from 13.47 million in 2013 to 8.13 million in 2020, a 40 percent drop. Among them, the number of registered first marriages decreased from 23.86 million to 13.99 million, a plunge of 41 percent.

Secondly, people's willingness to give birth has declined. At present, each couple from the post-1990s generation plans to have 1.66 children, 10 percent lower than that of the post-1980s.

According to the 2019 National Population and Family Dynamic Monitoring Survey, less than 50 percent of women who planned to have two or more children actually did so.

The top three reasons that hinder women from giving birth are the heavy economic burden, unattended infants and difficulty balancing family and work. According to the survey, 75.1 percent of respondents chose "heavy economic burden," and 51.3 percent were worried that no one would take care of their children. And 34.3 percent of female employees' wages dropped after giving birth, among whom 42.9 percent had their wages cut by more than half.

Thirdly, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, uncertainties in employment and income have increased significantly, further delaying marriages and child birth.

Q: What are the supporting policies?

 A: We need to lower the cost of education by promoting fair and high-quality education resources and developing affordable daycare services. We also must ensure that people can have maternity leave and insurance and protect women's rights in employment.

Q: What kind of role can the relaxed birth policy have on optimizing the population structure and increasing the labor force?

A: It will help improve the age structure of the population and expand the supply of new labor in the long run.

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