BEIJING — For decades, China harshly restricted the number of babies that women could have. Now it is encouraging them to have more. It is not going well.Almost three years after easing its “one child” policy and allowing couples to have two children, the government has begun to acknowledge that its efforts to raise the…
BEIJING — For decades, China harshly restricted the number of babies that women could have. Now it is encouraging them to have more. It is not going well.
Almost three years after easing its “one child” policy and allowing couples to have two children, the government has begun to acknowledge that its efforts to raise the country’s birthrate are faltering because parents are deciding against having more children.
Officials are now scrambling to devise ways to stimulate a baby boom, worried that a looming demographic crisis could imperil economic growth — and undercut the ruling Communist Party and its leader, Xi Jinping.
It is a startling reversal for the party, which only a short time ago imposed punishing fines on most couples who had more than one child and compelled hundreds of millions of Chinese women to have abortions or undergo sterilization operations.
to abolish all birth limits and let people have as many children as they want.
The proposal is politically fraught because removing the last remaining checks on family size would be another reminder that a policy that touched every Chinese family and reshaped society — most Chinese millennials, for example, have no siblings — may have been deeply flawed.
tightened the requirements for couples to divorce, saying the changes were made in part to keep alive the possibility of new offspring.raised to two children for everyone, effective Jan. 1, 2016.lose 100 million people from 2020 to 2035, then another 100 million from 2035 to 2050. It warned of pressure on “economic and social development,” budget resources and the environment.written a book warning of the impact of China’s shifting demographics on technological innovation.
“The generation before us only had one child, so in their mind having only one child is the normal thing,” Ms. Sun said in an interview in the company’s Shanghai headquarters.
“I think we really need to have a sense of urgency — from the top down and the bottom up — to encourage families to resume a healthy birthrate,” she added.
In a written response to questions, the National Health Commission said the “two child” policy was working. While the total number of births dipped to 17.2 million last year — compared with nearly 17.9 million in 2016 — the percentage of families with two children has climbed from 36 percent in 2013 to 51 percent today, it said.
The commission acknowledged that couples faced many obstacles to having a second child and said the government was working on policies in areas like taxation and education that would address them.
“To eliminate the concerns of the masses and sustain the birthrate, we need to focus on the practical difficulties in fertility and child-rearing,” it said.
Demographic experts warn that it will be difficult to change people’s reproductive behavior.
Shang Xiaoyuan, a professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney and an expert on child welfare in China, said the government needed to help the families most likely to have a second or third child.
“This kind of family should be given more support and should have more invested in child welfare: early education, maternal and child health,” she said.
Better benefits and services will not be enough to persuade everyone.
Sun Zhongyue, a 27-year-old accountant in Beijing who is pregnant with her first child, said she had already ruled out having a second, citing workplace discrimination, the costs of education and the social strains on extended families.
While grandparents often help with child care in China, the majority of Ms. Sun’s generation are only children who are expected in turn to support their aging parents.
“Although elders can help us look after the kid, they cannot once their health worsens,” she said during a visit to a government office to obtain reimbursement for her maternity care.
“Raising a child is stressful,” she added. “It costs money and manpower.”