Can The Three Child Policy Reverse China’s Population Decline?

To tackle the aging population, steeply falling birth rates, and lack of workforce, the Sino government have passed a new policy earlier this week, the three-child policy. The policy will enable all Chinese couples to have three children, which was restricted until now by the two-child policy of 2016. The Chinese government has promised to financially support the bearing and raising of the third child.

But, will the new policy be able to retrieve the long damage done to China’s population by the four-decade-long one-child policy? Are Chinese couples ready to have three children? And how will the policy affect China’s economy in the long run?

The Three Child Policy

In the second half of the 20th century, industrialization and betterment in living standards led to an explosion in China’s population. The sudden surge in the population increased joblessness, shortage of facilities to accommodate enlarging residents, and numerous other challenges. To control this skyrocketing population, the Chinese government came up with its famous One-Child Policy in 1979, limiting the number of children any couple could have to one.

The policy has been incredibly successful in accomplishing its purpose, it drastically constrained the birth rates in the country, but what followed was unforeseeable. The patriarchal society of China lead many couples to abort girl child making China, a country with one of the most skewed sex ratio in the world today. After hitting the peak population, the country’s workforce, which helped China to become the superpower it is today, started aging. Today, China is amongst the most rapidly aging nations in the world.

The adversities of the one-child policy were undeniable, therefore, in 2016, the Chinese government abolished the policy and replace it with a two-child policy. Under this plan, couples were allowed to have at most two children. But, nothing much changed by the new design, the birth rate kept on falling steadily. According to a census published by the government, the number of births fell by four million from 2016 (16-million) to 2020 (12-million).

While the introduction of the One-Child Policy, there was almost 20 new birth per 1000 person, when the policy was abolished in 2016, the number of birth fell to 12 births per 1000-person. But even after the introduction of the two-child policy, today, the number has fallen to almost 10-births per 1000-person.

China’s young population has also steeply fallen in the subsequent generation, post the one-child policy’s implementation. In the census 2000, 22.9% of the Chinese population was of age 14 or above which fell to 16.6% in census 2010, furthermore, as predicted the aged population surged in the same time period from 10% of the entire population to 13.26%.

The skilled labor workforce which once fuelled huge Foreign Direct Investments in the country is shrinking. This has already started showing its ill effects as some of the major companies are shifting from China to other Asian nations like Vietnam and Bangladesh, in the hunt for cheap skilled laborers.

Why Did The Two-Child Policy Failed?

The two-child policy of 2016 aimed to increase the country’s birth rate, but in just five years, the policy seems to be failing its purpose, as the birth rates continue to fall. When asked to young Chinese couples, the majority don’t want to have two children despite the changes in the laws. Furthermore, working women are putting off having children altogether given the workplace discrimination.

Increased costs of raising a child, hiked real estate prices and deep-rooted social norm of one child are deterring many couples from starting families. What was once introduced as a policy has become a cultural norm in China. Many are critical and ridiculed by the government’s dramatic policy turnaround. From 1980 to 2016 millions of women were subjected to fines are forced abortions and sterilization after having one child. Though these penalties no more apply, the rising cost of living remains a major hurdle.

Will The Three Child Policy Reverse China’s Population Decline?

To cope-up with the increasing finances and numerous other difficulties due to the shrinking workforce, the government is also mulling over delaying the retirement age. The government has also promised to support parents financially for having a third child.

Experts believe that the Chinese government should completely lift any limit to the number of children any couple wants to have. Joshua Rosenzweig, BBC’s China team head says; “Governments have no business regulating how many children people have. Rather than ‘optimizing’ its birth policy, China should instead respect people’s life choices and end any invasive and punitive controls over people’s family planning decisions.”

But, others believe that lifting the restriction on children altogether could have a negative impact considering the huge disparity between rural people and city dwellers. The loss caused due to the shrinking workforce, would not only be incurred by China but the entire world. According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s scientist, Dr. Yi Fuxian; “China’s economy has grown very quickly, and many industries in the world rely on China. The scope of the impact of a population decline would be very wide.”