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Birth Rate Blues
Chinese Say Thanks But No Thanks to Two-Child Option

When China relaxed its one-child policy and allowed parents to apply to have a second child, officials expected that a pent-up demand for children would produce one or two more million new Chinese workers. Not so much, it seems. According to the Economist, only 270,000 parents have applied for their second child: 

The government and investors have overestimated the pent-up demand for babies. As in wealthier countries, preferences in China have shifted markedly towards smaller families. The cost of raising children has soared in cities, where competition to land a good kindergarten place is fierce. Costly housing puts a premium on living space. Analysts at Credit Suisse, a bank, reckon it takes roughly 25,000 yuan ($4,030) a year to raise a young child. That is equivalent almost to the average annual income in China. […]

The legacy of China’s one-child policy, now over three decades old, exacerbates the problem. Grandparents are traditionally a fixture in Chinese households helping to raise the young. But with couples waiting till later in life to have children, some parents find that they are looking after both their elders and their newborn.

The reason the Chinese government eased the policy was, of course, to beef up their tax-paying workforce, whose future is threatened by unsustainably low birth rates (China is currently at 1.5 children per couple; replacement is 2.1). But it looks like the same trends that have led to low birthrates in the U.S. are at work in China, which will make it even harder for the country to climb back to replacement level after its success in enforcing the one-child policy.

This is a long-term demographic problem that the country will have to manage successfully if it wants to continue its economic progress. Several factors will help the country adapt, however. The fact that the Chinese are living longer, for example, means they will likely stay in the workforce longer as well, cushioning the effects of low birth rates. Furthermore, a more urbanized and educated population means more people are pulled into skilled work than ever before. But overall China will have to manage its birth rates better than it is doing; perhaps it can take a page from Russia’s book.

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  • lukelea

    As you can see there is no problem for replacement levels in some parts of the world:

  • gabrielsyme

    Forty years of indoctrination and coercion have changed the culture. At least Russia did not have to fight against it’s own anti-natalist propaganda. I imagine the urban Chinese population will never recover any significant part of its lost fertility; China will have to see a fairly massive increase in the impoverished rural areas if it is to avoid long-term well-below-replacement fertility overall.

    The one-child policy was an enormous evil, that resulted in tens of millions of abortions, many of them forced, forced sterilisations, and the abandonment of untold numbers of illegal children. It should not be a great surprise that China will suffer on account of it.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Does a country the size of the USA with four times as many people really need to be running at full replacement rate?

    • Honk

      It is not the size, but the demographic composition of the population, with respect to the workforce.

    • Guest

      [deleted by me]

      • FriendlyGoat


    • Stephen W. Houghton

      Yes, because otherwise they are going to have lots of old people for few workers.

  • Jane the Actuary

    This is interesting, but not that surprising. In the U.S., we tend to think of a two-child family as “natural” so that when a country’s birth rate drops, it’ll settle there. But there’s nothing natural about it — if a culture becomes accustomed to a one-child norm, if all your friends and relations have one child, why should you deviate? That’s what’s happened in Germany, anyway.

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