China’s Most Wanted: Babies

Access to low-interest housing loans and social interest housing. remote work. Flexible schedule. Care for 2 year olds, not just kids 3 and up.

Despite these incentives designed to encourage potential fathers to procreate, official statistics from Beijing indicate that China’s birth rate continues to fall even as couples have been encouraged to have three children since 2021.

The change sees the government pivot to embrace a “talent dividend”: fewer young but educated to have skills that benefit China, rather than the old “demographic dividend,” a seemingly endless supply of young workers.

Niu Jianlin, a researcher at the Institute of Population and Labor Economics of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the government-affiliated China Discipline Inspection and Supervision News last week, “According to the report of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the education, science and technology and talents are the basic and strategic support to build a modern socialist country in a comprehensive way… This points the direction for us to continue to improve the quality of the population and make the transition of ‘demographic dividend ‘ to ‘talent dividend'”.

According to data released this month from the “China Statistical Yearbook 2022” released by the China National Bureau of Statistics, 13 of the country’s 31 provinces and cities that are the administrative equivalent of provinces experienced negative natural population growth in 2021. In 2020, there were 11 of these centers of negative growth.

The total number of births in China in 2021 was 10.62 million, a record low in recent years, according to the bureau’s statistics released in January. The net increase of 480,000 people in a nation of 1.4 billion was the lowest since 1962, when China began keeping these records.

Yang Wenzhuang, head of population and family affairs at the National Health Commission, told the 2022 China Population Association Annual Conference in July that there will be no population growth by 2025.

Huang Wenzheng, a demographer and senior fellow at the Center for China and Globalization, told the government-affiliated Global Times, “China’s birth rate can be predicted to continue to decline for more than a century.”

China is not alone in experiencing a declining birth rate. “The decline in the working-age population is an inevitable consequence of the modern demographic transition. In today’s world, except for a few immigrant countries, most low-fertility countries that have completed the demographic transition have generally experienced or will soon experience the process of the working-age population from increasing to decreasing,” Niu said, adding that China’s total working-age population still ranked first in the world.

According to an analysis by the Chinese state financial media organization Yicai, the reasons for the negative natural population growth in different regions vary. For example, in northeast China, urbanization and the departure of young people seeking opportunities elsewhere contribute to the low birth rate. The natural population growth rate in north China and some central provinces is low, mainly due to the outflow of young and middle-aged people to look for work elsewhere. Also, some provinces with relatively high urbanization rates, such as Jiangsu, Shanghai, Chongqing, and Tianjin, have relatively low natural population growth rates.

Experts believe that the current political and economic climate makes some Chinese hesitant to have children.

Fu-Xian Yi, a senior scientist for obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told VOA Mandarin that many Chinese families are reluctant to have children due to high house prices and declining income.

Yi said, “Housing prices in China are too expensive, making it difficult for ordinary people to raise children. The employment rate has fallen and the unemployment rate has risen. Policies for COVID testing and the quarantine are making things difficult for pregnant women and China’s economic growth is slowing,” so people worry about having children as incomes dwindle.

And while the Chinese authorities began to repeal the one-child policy in 2013, leading to a two-child-for-all policy in 2016 and a three-child policy in 2021, the government did not introduce policies that would offset the costs of parenting. of the children, according to Yi.

It was not until August 2022 that China’s National Health Commission announced the “14th Five-Year Plan” (2021-2025) to combat negative population growth. Chinese authorities have targeted married women of childbearing age with incentives such as low-cost housing loans or low-income housing, remote employment and flextime policies, and allowing 2-year-olds into preschools that once accepted only to children who were one year older.

Seventeen of China’s national agencies, including the National Health Commission and the National Development and Reform Commission, jointly announced baby booster policies.

Song Jian, a professor at Renmin University of China and deputy director of the Population and Development Research Center, told the Global Times on November 16 that encouraging couples to have children depended on the implementation of measures announced in August to provide “financial support, childcare services.” , and paid maternity leave, reasonable sharing of maternity costs, and building a social environment conducive to motherhood, focusing on family needs and balancing work and family for couples of childbearing age.”

But spending isn’t the only reason keeping potential parents from having babies, according to Lu Jun, co-founder of the Beijing Yirenping Center, a human rights nongovernmental organization in New York City.

He told VOA Mandarin that prospective parents see that “public power in China is now increasingly out of control.” He cited the regression of the rule of law and freedom of expression, increasing control over the media and the consolidation of political power, as evidenced by the election of Xi Jinping to a third term as China’s president.

“It is now clear that the door to political reform has been completely closed,” Lu said. “Young people question the future of this country.”

Lu said that, in fact, it is not that the Chinese do not want to have children, but many people are not willing to have children in China. “Since they see that China’s political and economic prospects are bleak, they can speed up the rate of emigration so that their children have a better future.”

Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

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