Chinese Communists Urge Xi Jinping to End Child Limits as Birth Rate Continues to Plummet

HUAINAN, CHINA - OCTOBER 01: Nurses take care of babies who were born on the National Day
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A member of the influential Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee suggested on Monday that China should shore up its collapsing demographics by lifting all restrictions on how many children families can have and by extending equal recognition and benefits to the children of single parents.

CPPCC adviser Xiong Shuilong said it was no longer appropriate to restrict family size because China’s birth rate is declining sharply enough to put its future social and industrial plans in doubt. The state-run Global Times quoted a few of his suggestions:

Xiong proposed to completely abolish the limits on the number of children residents can have and truly return the right to have children to families. At the same time, give unmarried or single parents the equal right to enjoy relevant support policies for childbearing, Xiong stated in his drafted proposal which is scheduled to submit during this year’s two sessions.

The political advisor also put forward suggestions on reducing social costs borne directly by enterprises due to female employees’ childbirth. The proposals include improving cost-sharing mechanisms for maternity leave, significantly reducing the social security costs borne by enterprises for female employees during maternity leave and extended prenatal check-up periods. For enterprises that hire women of childbearing age, certain income tax reductions can be granted, Xiong suggested.

He also appealed to local governments to provide subsidies for families with multiple children, and accelerate the building of public kindergartens and nursing homes, in order to relieve the burden of parents.

The Global Times anticipated demographics and family policy would be hot topics at upcoming national sessions of the CPPCC, the first of which is scheduled to begin “next week.” Individual provinces also have advisory committees, and several have discussed population decline recently.

While Chinese officials and state media tend to treat population decline as an annoyingly stubborn problem the Communist Party will soon address with the perfect mix of policies, foreign analysts believe China is approaching an event horizon of demographic decline from which no industrial nation has ever escaped.

In January, the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) warned that China’s population decline is “getting close to irreversible.” China has already passed Japan, the early harbinger of Asian population decline, and is approaching the astonishing fertility crash of South Korea.

PIIE speculated that 2024 might present China’s best chance to pull out of the population nosedive because “some marriages postponed by now-lifted Covid restrictions may take place,” and the Year of the Dragon is “often considered a fortuitous year to have children.” However, both of those factors would probably be marginal and temporary.

The Institute observed:

Nothing would suggest that the Chinese TFR [Total Fertility Rate] will reverse and rise again in the long run—South Korea leads the way with its TFR down at 0.72, but Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai, and other major Chinese metropolises today all have TFRs at or well below 1. Compared to these places, Japan is a high fertility country among advanced Asian economies.

PIIE thought the prospects for Chinese demographic recovery were so glum that Beijing would soon abandon its dream of surpassing the United States as the world’s largest economy, and it suggested Chinese Communist leaders have probably known this for quite some time, but they were — and probably still are — cooking the books to conceal the true extent of the decline.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) also suggested in January that China has been manipulating its population statistics with “shaky statistical assumptions that fertility rates will ‘rebound’ in coming decades” to keep its vision of unstoppable economic growth alive.

“Absolutely nothing like these trends have been observed anywhere in East Asia over the past decades. Indeed, fertility rates are going in exactly the opposite direction,” the CFR said of China’s optimistic projections for 2025 and beyond.

One of the factors often cited in Asian population decline is the strong shared cultural bias against single parenthood, which is often reflected in childcare policies that are much more generous to married couples. This tends to make young, career-minded Asian women even more nervous about raising children alone than their Western counterparts, so the decline of marriage is matched by an even quicker and sharper birth rate decline than in America or Europe.

Xiong alluded to this element of population decline when he suggested providing full recognition and policy support to single-parent families. His other proposals were largely geared at easing maternal anxiety among young women who fear marriage and family would ruin their career prospects by making them far more expensive to employ than men.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported in January that the Chinese population decline accelerated in 2023 despite major national and provincial policy rollouts intended to shore up birth rates. The net loss of 2.08 million in 2024 was more than double the loss in 2022, and the number of babies born in 2023 was less than half of the new births in 2016, the first year after China’s horrific “One Child” population control policy was lifted.

The WSJ cited economic uncertainty as one of the reasons Chinese youth are growing more reluctant to get married and have children. Also, the net population loss could be influenced by much higher mortality rates from the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic than Beijing is willing to admit.

Citing data from the Chinese State Council’s Development and Research Center, the WSJ noted:

China’s population is aging much earlier in its economic development than other major economies. China’s per capita gross domestic product in 2022, when its population first started shrinking, was around $12,000, just above one-third of Japan’s when it began seeing population declines.

One policy measure Chinese officials continue to discuss, without ever working up the nerve to implement it, is raising the retirement age to bring more elderly and experienced workers back into the dwindling workforce. 

Japan used that technique to stave off the economic consequences of its population decline, but China has been reluctant to follow suit, even though top regime advisers have publicly admitted that postponed retirement is a rising global trend. China currently has some of the world’s lowest retirement ages: 60 for men, 55 for women employed in offices, and 50 for female blue-collar workers.


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