In 1979, the Chinese Communist Party introduced its one-child policy, prohibiting people from having a second child. The policy is believed to have arrested population growth of the country and eventually contributed to economic prosperity. Though it was abandoned in 2015 in favor of a two-child policy, the forced and unnatural population adjustment seems to also have set the stage for a long-term birth rate decline.
Last year, China only recorded 15.23 million births in the country, far less than the 21 to 23 million that officials were expecting. The total births in 2018 were the lowest since 1949 and dropped by about 2 million from the year before. Considering that almost 9.93 million deaths were also recorded last year, the net population growth for 2018 was at 3.81 per thousand, less than 5.23 per thousand recorded in 2017. According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the country’s population will peak at 1.44 billion in 2029 before it enters a period of “unstoppable” decline.
The reason for the projected decline is that many Chinese women have begun prioritizing careers over family life, a trend often seen in developing and developed countries. Some choose to just have a single child. Others are opting to remain childless. While the government propaganda of the previous decades aimed at brainwashing people into thinking that having more than one baby was “wrong,” the current propaganda encourages women to have more kids.
Subsidies and other benefits have been announced for extra kids. But despite such incentives, many women are wary about having more than one child. “It’s hard to find time even to sleep for a few minutes in a chair… There are too many children and the competition is too high. If you don’t do well in school you can’t get into a good university, and then maybe you can’t get a good job in the future… If we were to have another child, I’m afraid I wouldn’t have the energy for them,” a 38-year-old mother of a single child said to The Guardian.
According to estimates, almost a third of the population will be 60 years of age or older by 2050. This might have a significant impact on the females of the coming generation. “As China seeks to grow families to help care for the elderly, it also risks consigning girls of the next generation to predetermined caregiving roles, as traditional families consider daughters more doting and dutiful than sons toward ailing kin. Meanwhile, with limited resources and soaring school costs, sons in larger families will once again be prioritized for education,” according to Time.
According to the Chinese job portal 51job.com, the effect of the two-child policy is already showing in company decisions. Their survey indicates that almost three-quarters of businesses are reluctant to hire women, as the new policy might end up making women dedicate a good chunk of their time to raising kids. Companies would rather prefer to have men who can keep on working without any extended breaks.
The declining population will also present a big problem to the state treasury, as the country won’t be able to support the vast senior population with pensions and other monetary and health support. Some estimate that China might have a pension shortfall of US$130 billion by 2020.