China’s population growth rate for 2021 was 0.034%. This is the first time that the country’s population growth rate has reached less than 0.1% ever since such records became available in 1960, making it the slowest rate ever recorded.
China’s population growth rate may indicate that the country has attained its peak in terms of population. This means that the population is aging, which is a problem for the second largest economy in the world.
Currently, there are 1.41 billion people on the mainland, not including foreigners who reside in the country. However, there has been a decrease in the number of new births in mainland China. In 2021, there were 10.62 million babies born. This is 13% lower compared to the number of births in 2020, which was already 22% lower than in 2019. In 2016, there were 18 million new births.
The natural growth rate increased in 2016 compared to 2015. At that time, government officials decided to allow couples to have more than one child. However, from then on, the natural growth rate has been decreasing. In 2019, the natural growth rate was 0.332%. In 2020, the natural growth rate was lower at 0.145%.
One factor that was considered in the decline of China’s population growth rate was the decrease in the number of women that are considered to be of childbearing age. There was a 3 million decrease in women between the ages of 21 and 35 in the year 2021.
However, Mr. Ning Jizhe, the National Bureau of Statistics Commissioner, said that the number of births is still expected to be more than 10 million per year. The total population of the country is expected to be more than 1.4 billion people in the foreseeable future.
Efforts to Increase China’s Population Growth Rate
In 2016, the one-child policy in China that has been in effect for so long was changed. At that time, they implemented the two-child policy. This was done to increase China’s population growth rate. However, it was still unsuccessful in doing so.
In 2021, the government introduced the three-child policy to further encourage couples to bear children. However, Chinese couples were still not keen on growing their families because of the costs that come along with supporting children.
The President of China, Xi Jinping, claimed that citizens will receive the necessary support so that the environment becomes more favorable for increasing China’s population growth rate. This will help the country adjust to its aging population and ensure that human resources remain a competitive advantage for the country.
Amnesty International still disagrees with such regulations as they go against sexual and reproductive rights. They claim that the government should not meddle in matters involving the number of children that families can have. Instead, families should be given the freedom to make their own decisions when it comes to family planning.
The Impact of Adjusting the Child Policy on China’s Population Growth Rate
The increase in China’s population growth rate due to the two-child policy did not last long. It only resulted in an increase until 2018. However, this was not sustained thereafter.
Because of this, some are wary about the effectiveness of the three-child policy. Mr. Hao Zhou, a senior economist working at Commerzbank, said that the two-child policy would have already had a continued impact on China’s population rate if that were the only limiting factor for couples to grow their families. The issue of having children is greatly influenced by the high cost of supporting more people. There are also other pressures that couples face, as individuals and as a married unit.
The adjustment to the child policy did not come with changes to the reproductive benefits and the appropriate number of leaves for both parents. There was also no financial support given to cover the cost of education and childcare facilities.
There is a Already Preference for Smaller Families
The one-child policy was implemented in 1979 to slow China’s population growth. This was strictly enforced, with those violating the policy being fined, removed from jobs, and forced to undergo abortion. In this situation, Chinese citizens have become obedient to the law.
The one-child per family restriction made Chinese citizens more accustomed to being in small families and not having any siblings. This preference is still being carried out as individuals begin to grow their own families.
Some citizens also believe that it would be better to concentrate their resources on one child so that the child can have better opportunities. Having more children may spread their income too thinly. This will limit their children’s enjoyment of what life has to offer and their opportunities for personal and professional advancement.
The Definition of Success has Shifted
Success in life is also defined differently now. In the past decades, being successful meant getting married and starting a family. However, success is now centered around personal growth. This encourages more women to pursue higher education and focus on the advancement of their careers. They use more of their time and energy to develop their skills and improve their financial situation instead of starting a family at a young age.
However, with increased income associated with career advancement, there is also less of a need to have more children. Before, it became a necessity for couples belonging to a lower socioeconomic class to have more children. This is because their children can eventually join the workforce. Having more children then means having more income, which can be used to improve the living conditions of the family.
The current working conditions are also not suitable for younger generations to take on more responsibilities that come with having children. The working hours are becoming longer as the labor market decreases with the aging population. These long hours lead to overwork. With more time and energy spent on work, individuals don’t have any left to even consider having children.
Gender Imbalance in China
Another factor that is likely contributing to the decline in China’s population growth rate is the gender imbalance in the country. In 2020, “there were 34.9 million more males than females”.
When the one-child policy was implemented, couples preferred to have male children due to traditional beliefs. As a result, female children were abandoned, left in institutions, or aborted.
The gender imbalance makes it challenging for men to find someone they can marry. There is even more pressure and difficulty for men who belong to the lower socioeconomic classes. With fewer women than men, women have the option to choose a husband who can financially support them.
Will the Regulations be Removed Altogether?
Removing regulations regarding how many children families can have is under speculation. However, the government is approaching the situation carefully. There could be an increased socioeconomic gap between individuals from the city and those residing in rural areas.
The difference in characteristics among the residents’ profiles will contribute to the expected socioeconomic gap. Women in rural areas are more likely to prefer large families. On the other hand, women in cities are more likely to pursue their careers before starting their own families. This can put additional financial pressure on families in rural areas since they may not necessarily be able to economically support large families.
The Perspective of a Woman
One woman residing in Beijing does not plan on having children for the moment, despite the change in regulations and pressure coming from her own mother. She has been married for 2 years already. However, the stories she hears from her friends who have children discourage her from having children. Her friends talk about hiring the best caretaker for their children or having them enter the best schools. This all seems like too much to handle for her. She prefers to enjoy her life and avoid any difficulties associated with raising children. She is not alone in feeling this way. Many more women share the same sentiment.
Societal expectations dictate that women be the primary caretakers of children. On the other hand, men are expected to work. Despite having a 14-day paternity leave, most men do not avail of it to provide physical and emotional support to women. This becomes burdensome for women trying to balance their role as mothers and employees.
There is also discrimination against women in the workplace. One shares her story of being told by a company to “guarantee that she would quit her job as soon as she got pregnant”. Even if the provision for maternity leave is available, most are not encouraged to take it because of the consequences it may have on their career.
The population of China will very much affect other countries due to their reliance on China. The inverted age structure that can eventually develop from a low birth rate will be disadvantageous for the country. There will be insufficient individuals in the working age group to support the number of elderly citizens. With an aging population, services related to healthcare and social welfare will also see an increase in demand.
However, the situation in China seems to be discouraging for women and couples to start their own families. Increasing the limitations on the number of children allowed will not necessarily result in the impact it hopes to achieve. There are other economic and social factors that need to be considered so that more couples are encouraged to grow their families. These should be addressed so that China can effectively address the aging population it has.