In China, the birth rate threatened by the old one-child policy

China fails to increase the number of births. Recent official statistics indicate that births are at their lowest for at least 40 years. The population is expected to drop by 50% by the end of the century.

Beijing’s frantic efforts are not enough to slow down the looming demographic crisis in China. The birth rate has never been so low for at least 40 years. The data released this Wednesday by the National Bureau of Statistics indicate that 8.5 births took place per 1,000 people in 2020, up from 10.41 the previous year. A figure that has been almost constantly decreasing since the communist regime came to power seventy years ago, which could threaten the economic vitality of the most populous nation in the world (1.4 billion inhabitants).

Several factors can explain this spectacular fall that nothing seems to be able to stop. For nearly four decades, China, which was approaching one billion inhabitants at the end of the 1970s, implemented a coercive one-child policy to limit its galloping demography. A measure that has prevented hundreds of millions of births, due in some cases to sterilizations and forced abortions, but which has led to an accelerated aging of the population. The relaxation of this policy, allowing couples to have two children in 2016, then three this year, has not had the effects hoped for by the authorities. No more than the controversial announcement at the end of September to want to reduce the number of abortions.

Beijing’s natalist policy has finally had the opposite effect of a new «baby-boom» research. The results of the latest census, released in May, indicated that China’s fertility rate (1) was just 1.3, one of the lowest in the world (around 1.9 in France). Most Chinese couples are increasingly reluctant to have children, due to the sheer cost of education or extracurricular activities. The one-child policy has in fact pushed families to concentrate all their resources on their offspring. “China’s economic prosperity is no longer relevant. Between non-existent social security, the absence of retirement, the exorbitant price of housing, education, or care, households prefer to save in the event of possible accidents rather than have a second child ”, analysis Marc Julienne, China specialist at the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri).

More singles, fewer marriages

The birth control policy has also left an indelible mark on society, including the new generations. Many have only known the days when this family model was the norm and find it difficult to break away from it. “Growing up as only children has made a deep impression on us – and we still carry that imprint today, especially in our own reproductive decisions”, wrote in early November Helen Gao, a writer based in Beijing, in the American magazine Foreign Policy. She describes how this family model was established. “So firmly in the consciousness of [sa] generation that those considering a second or third child often find it difficult to imagine how they could handle it ”.

China is also facing an explosion in celibacy. According to some specialists, more than one in three urban women is still single at the age of thirty, in particular the most highly educated. The number of marriages has collapsed, falling to the lowest in nearly two decades, with just eight million unions celebrated in 2020.

732 million inhabitants in 2100

Will Beijing be able to escape demographic decline? the Financial Times revealed in April that the Chinese population had declined in 2020, which would have been a first since the great famine of the early 1960s. The census results, released a month late, had finally contradicted these estimates, revealing that the population had increased by 72 million inhabitants in ten years.

But as the pace of growth continues to slow, China could reach the “Historic turn towards negative population growth earlier than expected”, warned the Chinese economic site Caijing Xinzhi in early September. According to a report published in the journal The Lancet by September 2020, the population is expected to drop from 1.4 billion in 2017 to 732 million by 2100. “It’s a vicious circle: China’s colossal economic challenges weigh on its demography, which itself will have disastrous consequences on the economy”, warns Marc Julienne.

(1) The fertility rate represents the average number of children per woman of reproductive age, unlike the birth rate which represents the number of births per year per 1,000 inhabitants.

Source: Libération by

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