Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 31 May 2021



China to Allow Couples to Have Three Children to Boost Birthrate

Bloomberg News
Updated on 
Children play at a mall in Shanghai, China.
Children play at a mall in Shanghai, China. Photographer: Qilai Shen

China will allow all couples to have a third child in a bid to arrest the shrinking birthrate and aging population that are risks to the country’s long-term economic prospects.

“Allowing every couple to have three children and implementing related support policies will help improve the population’s structure,” the Xinhua News Agency reported, citing a Politburo meeting held Monday. It wasn’t clear when the move would take effect, although the meeting was to discuss major policy measures to be implemented in the five-year period which started this year, according to Xinhua.

China has been gradually reforming its stringent birth policy that limited most families for many years to only having a single child, with a second child allowed since 2016. However, that did little to reverse the declining birthrate and further relaxation of the limits is unlikely to lead to a sustained increase.

The Politburo also said that China “will prudently lift the retirement age in a phased manner,” according to the report of the meeting presided over by President Xi Jinping. The increase in the age at which people can retire was included in the current five-year plan although there were no details.

No Baby Boom

Number of births in China fell to lowest since 1961

Source: National Bureau of Statistics, data compiled by demographer He Yafu

China’s declining birthrate means the population may soon begin shrinking. Bloomberg Economics estimates the slowdown in population growth means the world’s most populous country could peak before 2025. The annual average population growth of 0.53% in the past decade was the slowest since the 1950s, according to recent census data released.

As in East Asia and Europe, preferences have shifted towards smaller families. A spike in births following the previous relaxation to allow most families to have two children was short-lived, with many parents citing the high costs of housing and education as a limiting factor. There were only 12 million new babies born in China last year, the lowest number since 1961.

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