Shang­hai’s low fer­til­ity rate re­quires pol­icy change

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By LI YANG in Shang­hai

China should end its fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy as soon as pos­si­ble to curb the fast aging of the so­ci­ety, said ex­perts at­tend­ing a pop­u­la­tion pol­icy stud­ies fo­rum at Fu­dan Uni­ver­sity in Shang­hai.

The av­er­age fer­til­ity rate in the United States is about 2.1, which is the ba­sic re­place­ment fer­til­ity rate en­sur­ing the pop­u­la­tion re­mains un­changed, ac­cord­ing to Xi Fux­ian, a pro­fes­sor of pop­u­la­tion stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin.

“The real fer­til­ity rate in China could be much lower than the of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment of 1.8, and the gen­der ra­tio, which means the num­ber of male to per 100 fe­males, is about 121, far above the 105 ceil­ing safety line,” Yi said.

In China’s most de­vel­oped city Shang­hai, most of the child­bear­ing cou­ples are sin­gle chil­dren of their re­spec­tive fam­i­lies; the fer­til­ity rate is only 0.7 per­cent, the low­est in ma­jor cities in the world.

“Pop­u­la­tion pol­icy is not a spring, be­cause when the pol­icy is re­laxed, the fer­til­ity rate will not nec­es­sar­ily re­bound,” said Guo Zhi­gang, pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy at Pek­ing Uni­ver­sity. “But the low fer­til­ity is a re­sult of the strict fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy.”

The cen­sus in 1964 showed that the young peo­ple un­der 15 years old ac­counted for more than 40 per­cent of China’s pop­u­la­tion.

The pro­por­tion fell to 16.6 per­cent in 2010. The United Na­tions pre­dicts that pro­por­tion of young peo­ple in China will fall even lower than Rus­sia’s, and only higher than the se­ri­ously aging Ja­pan by 2030.

Pop­u­la­tion changes will af­fect the na­tion’s econ­omy. The US econ­omy will ben­e­fit from the healthy pop­u­la­tion struc­ture in the long run. By 2040, the me­dian age of the US pop­u­la­tion will be about 40 years old, but China’s will be about 50. Even if China is the world’s largest econ­omy by then, its per capita GDP will be much lower than the US’.

In­dia will over­take China in pop­u­la­tion by 2040, when it will have 1.6 bil­lion peo­ple, 850 mil­lion of whom will be work­ing-age pop­u­la­tion, com­pared with China’s 690 mil­lion. The gap mainly is in 20-to-40 age group.

“China will al­most cer­tainly fall into a low birth rate in 20 years, even if the gov­ern­ment abol­ishes all con­trols on child­birth,” said Cai Yong, so­ci­ol­o­gist at the Uni­ver­sity of North Carolina, on the fo­rum. “The cul­ture is pro late child­birth and there is no re­stric­tion against ar­ti­fi­cial abor­tion. Chi­nese peo­ple are in­creas­ingly sen­si­tive to their con­di­tions of ed­u­ca­tion, econ­omy and life.”

The un­even dis­tri­bu­tion of public re­sources across China has a di­rect in­flu­ence on the pop­u­la­tion’s qual­ity.

Two thirds of the young peo­ple in 2010 in China, about 220 mil­lion, are from the coun­try­side, among whom more than 60 mil­lion are chil­dren living with their grand­par­ents in vil­lages left by their mi­grant worker par­ents work­ing in cities, and more than 30 mil­lion are mi­grant chil­dren living un­sta­ble lives with their mi­grant-worker par­ents.

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, it is dif­fi­cult for th­ese chil­dren to get a good ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing. China’s in­vest­ment in ed­u­ca­tion just reached 4 per­cent of GDP, an in­ter­na­tional bench­mark. The ex­ces­sive con­cen­tra­tion of goodqual­ity ed­u­ca­tion re­sources in sev­eral big cities means only a small pro­por­tion of ur­ban chil­dren are the main ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the limited in­put in im­prov­ing the lot of the peo­ple.

Re­pro­duc­tion should be guar­an­teed by a so­cial sys­tem. But China’s cur­rent so­cial sys­tem is not sup­port­ive of re­pro­duc­tion. The gov­ern­ment needs to con­struct an ef­fec­tive sup­port­ive so­cial sys­tem to stim­u­late peo­ple’s fer­til­ity de­sires, rather than only grant­ing them the over­due child­birth free­dom, Cai noted.

The Na­tional Bureau of Statis­tics shows that the work­ing-age pop­u­la­tion from 15 to 59 was 937.27 mil­lion in 2012, 3.45 mil­lion lower than the pre­vi­ous year. It is the first time China saw the decline of the ab­so­lute num­ber in its work­ing-age pop­u­la­tion since the early 1960s, when a great famine swept the coun­try.

“The pop­u­la­tion-con­trol poli­cies now go in the wrong di­rec­tion,” said Zuo Xue­jin, an econ­o­mist at the Shang­hai Academy of So­cial Sciences. “The author­ity must ad­just its child­bear­ing poli­cies and com­pletely abol­ish the fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy as soon as pos­si­ble.” Zuo said that in­creas­ing the in­put in med­i­cal care, so­cial wel­fare and ed­u­ca­tion can not only im­prove the qual­ity of hu­man cap­i­tal, but also in­crease the will­ing­ness of peo­ple to re­pro­duce.

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