CNN – China’s birth rate has fallen for the fifth straight year to a new record high in 2021, despite government efforts to encourage couples to have more children in the face of a looming demographic crisis.
The world’s most populous country recorded 10.62 million births last year, or just 7.5 births per 1,000 people, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics – marking the lowest level since the founding of Communist China in 1949.
The number of births was just enough to exceed the number of deaths, with the population increasing from 480,000 to 1.4126 billion. The natural growth rate fell to 0.034%, the lowest since the Great Chinese Famine of 1959 to 1961, which killed tens of millions and led to population decline.
New births in 2021 fell 11.6% from 12.02 million in 2020 – a softer drop than the 18% drop that year from 14.65 million in 2019. Chinese demographers have warned that if the downward trend continues, China’s population may soon decline sharply.
Ning Jizhe, head of the National Bureau of Statistics, told state media on Monday that the decline in births was the result of a combination of “a decrease in the number of women of childbearing age, a continued decline in fertility, changes in attitudes towards childbearing and delayed marriage among young people”, particularly as a result of the pandemic.
The plunge in the birth rate comes as the Chinese government steps up its efforts to encourage families to have more children, after realizing that its decades-long one-child policy has contributed to the rapid aging of population and a shrinking workforce, which could seriously harm the economic and social stability of the country. .
To stop the decline in the birth rate, the Chinese government announced in 2015 that it would allow married couples to have two children. But after a brief spike in 2016, the national birth rate has fallen year on year, prompting authorities last year to further relax the three-child policy.
Ning, China’s head of statistics, said that in 2021, 43% of children born were the second child in a family. He said the three-child policy is expected to gradually increase births and “China’s total population will remain above 1.4 billion for a period to come.”
For decades, local governments forced millions of women to abort pregnancies deemed illegal by the state under the one-child policy. Now they are unleashing a flurry of propaganda and political slogans to encourage more births. Common incentives include cash payments, housing grants and extended maternity leave.
Last year, more than 20 provincial or regional governments amended their family planning laws, including extending maternity leave for women. For example, the eastern province of Zhejiang provides 188 days of maternity leave for the third child; and in the northern province of Shaanxi, women can get 350 days of paid leave to have a third child, according to state media.
But policies have failed to convince many women, who fear they will be further disadvantaged as businesses seek to avoid the additional financial burden.
The high cost of raising children also deters parents from having more, especially among the country’s growing middle class.
China’s high real estate prices and rising education costs, especially in big cities, have often been cited in surveys as the main factors preventing couples from having more children.
Both sectors have been in the spotlight this year, with the debt crisis surrounding real estate giant Evergrande and the Chinese government’s sweeping crackdown on the tutoring industry.
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