WASHINGTON – It looks totally implausible, but China is facing the real danger of a declining population. Yes, with 1, 355 billion people, China is the most populous country on earth. But the demographic trends indicates decline. With an average of 1.55 children per woman, China is well below “replacement level”. This means that slowly the population will decline, because the number of children born will not outpace the number of people who die every year.
Relaxing the one child policy
While the fertility of Chinese women is not as low as what we observe in most of Europe, Korea or Japan, (with lows of only 1,23 children per woman in South Korea), it is bad enough to have prompted the Chinese Government to relax the one child policy that has been strictly enforced for over 30 years. (Sadly, the policy includes forced abortions).
Few Chinese couples want a second child
But it turns out that very few couples that could be eligible to have a second child exercise this option. (Only 5% in Shanghai). Hard to say exactly why. In some instances it is about the cost of a larger family. In others it is about the difficulties that working women would experience trying to balance employment and motherhood.
This being the current scenario, unless Chinese women have a lot more children, China’s enormous population will start declining, while the average Chinese in a few decades will be quite old. This will have negative economic repercussions, because there will be fewer young workers and an increasing population of elderly retirees.
This is how the Chinese publication Caixin describes the so far unsuccessful efforts undertaken by Shanghai’s officials to encourage couples to have a second child:
“Shanghai Official Urges More Couples to Have Second Child”
January 28, 2015
“(Beijing) – A Shanghai health official has urged qualified couples to have a second baby because only a few had taken advantage of changes the government made a year ago to ease its one-child policy.
Only 5 percent of women eligible to have a second child have applied to do so, Fan Hua, an official in Shanghai’s health and family planning commission, said on January 25.
The high cost of raising a child and women’s career pursuits were to blame for the lack of interest in having children, Fan said. The average age for a Shanghai woman to get pregnant is 28, Fan said, and many dropped the idea of having a second child as their careers took off in their early 30s.
A survey by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and Shanghai Women’s Federation in 2011 found that half of the surveyed 2,000 parents who had a child under 12 years old said they would not have a second baby.”
“Qualified couples should have a second child because two children provided a family with the proper stability and social development, Fan said.
The ruling Communist Party started easing the one-child policy in 2013, more than three decades after it was implemented. The changes allowed couples in which either parent was an only child to have a second baby. Local governments across the country started implementing the changes last year.
Shanghai’s call for couples to take advantage of the changes shows the city government is worried about its population, said Huang Wenzheng, a biostatistics expert at Johns Hopkins University. Shanghai has the lowest fertility rate of any large city in the country, he said.”
“The eastern city has an aging and shrinking population. Shanghai had 3.87 million people over age 60 at the end of 2013, more than one-quarter of its population. Some 105,200 babies were born that year in the city, which recorded 116,500 deaths. [bold added]
All couples should be encouraged to have a second child, Huang said, but Shanghai would have to wait for the central government to announce a policy allowing that.
About 1 million couples around the country applied to have second children by the end of 2014, Mao Qun’an, a spokesman for the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said on January 12.
The government had predicted the figure would be 2 million every year. Mao said the shortfall may be due to couples taking time to apply, and he said more may seek permission this year.
Huang said government data showed that application figures were declining every month, and reversing the trend is impossible”. [bold added]