BEIJING (AP) – China’s ruling Communist Party said on Monday it would ease birth limits to allow all couples to have three children instead of two in hopes of slowing the rapid aging of its population , which aggravates the tensions on the economy and society.
The ruling party has imposed birth rates since 1980 to curb population growth, but is concerned that the number of working-age people is shrinking too quickly as the share of those over 65 grows. This threatens to disrupt its ambitions to transform China into a thriving consumer society and a global technology leader.
A ruling party meeting headed by President Xi Jinping decided to introduce “measures to actively combat the aging of the population,” the state-run Xinhua news agency said. He said the leaders agreed that “the implementation of the policy of a couple can have three children and the support measures are conducive to improving the structure of the Chinese population.”
The leaders also agreed that China should raise the retirement age to keep more people in the workforce and improve retirement and health services for the elderly, Xinhua said.
Restrictions that limited most couples to one child were relaxed in 2015 to allow two, but the total number of births has fallen further, suggesting that rule changes alone have little impact on the trend. .
Couples say they are discouraged by the high costs of raising a child, the disruption to their job, and the need to care for aging parents.
Comments on social media on Monday complained that the change does nothing to help young parents with medical bills, low incomes and grueling work schedules known as “996,” or 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. h six days a week.
“Every step of the way has not been resolved,” Tchaikovsky wrote an article on popular blogging service Sina Weibo. “Who will raise the baby?” Do you have time I go out early and come home late. Children don’t know what their parents look like. “
Another, signed Hyeongmok, bitterly joked, “Don’t worry about aging. Our generation will not live long. “
China, along with Thailand and some other Asian economies, faces what economists call the challenge of whether they can get rich before they get old.
China’s population of 1.4 billion was expected to already peak later this decade and begin to decline. Census data released on May 11 suggests this is happening faster than expected, increasing the burden on underfunded pension and healthcare systems and reducing the number of future workers available to support a growing group of retirees. .
The share of people of working age aged 15 to 59 in the population fell to 63.3% last year, from 70.1% ten years earlier. The 65 and over group fell from 8.9% to 13.5%.
The 12 million births reported last year were down almost a fifth from 2019.
About 40% were second children, up from 50% in 2017, according to Ning Jizhe, a statistics official who announced the data on May 11.
Chinese researchers and the Ministry of Labor say the share of working-age people could drop to half the population by 2050. This increases the “dependency ratio”, or the number of retirees who depend on each worker to generate income for pension funds and pay taxes for health and other public services.
At Monday’s meeting, leaders agreed that it was “necessary to regularly implement the phased extension of the statutory retirement age,” Xinhua said.
He gave no details, but the government debated raising the official retirement age to 60 for men, 55 for white collar workers and 50 for female workers.
The potential change is politically heavy. Some professional women appreciate the opportunity to pursue fulfilling careers, but others, whose bodies are exhausted from decades of manual labor, are not forced to work longer.
The fertility rate, or the average number of births per mother, was 1.3 in 2020, well below the 2.1 that would maintain the size of the population.
China’s birth rate, along with trends in other Asian economies, was already declining before the one-child rule. The average number of children per Chinese mother fell from more than six in the 1960s to less than three in 1980, according to the World Bank.
Demographers say official birth limits concealed what would have been a further drop in the number of children per family without the restrictions.
The ruling party says it has prevented up to 400 million potential births, averting food and water shortages. But demographers say if China followed trends in Thailand, parts of India and other countries, the number of additional babies could have been as low as a few million.
Writer AP Fu Ting in Bangkok contributed.
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