Two-child pol­icy work­ing, birthrate fig­ures show

Re­lax­ation of lim­its meant to off­set ef­fects of ag­ing pop­u­la­tion

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By SHAN JUAN in Bei­jing shan­juan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

When China re­laxed its four-decade one-child pol­icy at the start of 2016, there were a va­ri­ety of pre­dic­tions on whether the change in fam­ily plan­ning rules would en­cour­age enough peo­ple to have a sec­ond child.

Some said there would be too fewto off­set the ef­fects of an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion, cit­ing re­luc­tance by ur­ban­ites to in­crease the size of their fam­i­lies in the face of in­creased costs and new life­styles.

Oth­ers pre­dicted a baby boom be­cause, af­ter all, Chi­nese peo­ple love ba­bies.

Now the num­bers are in: In the first half of 2016, the pro­por­tion of Chi­nese new­borns who were sec­ond chil­dren grew to 44.7 per­cent of to­tal new­borns.

That’s an in­crease of some 6.9 per­cent­age points over the pro­por­tion of sec­ond child new­borns for the whole of 2015, which was 37.9 per­cent. A to­tal of 8.31 mil­lion new­borns were reg­is­tered na­tion­wide this year by the end of June, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Health and Fam­ily Plan­ning Com­mis­sion.

Some re­gions, mostly large cities, are be­gin­ning to see sec­ond chil­dren com­pris­ing more than half of lo­cal new­borns, the com­mis­sion said.

Avail­able data in­di­cate it’s the high­est pro­por­tion of sec­ond chil­dren since China in­tro­duced its fam­ily plan­ning poli­cies in the late 1970s, lim­it­ing most cou­ples to just one child, the com­mis­sion told China Daily.

In 2014, more ex­cep­tions to the one-child pol­icy were in­tro­duced, such as the ex­cep­tion that al­lowed a sec­ond child when one par­ent was an only child. The num­ber of sec­ond chil­dren be­gan to grow.

The uni­ver­sal two-child pol­icy was adopted by China’s top lead­er­ship in Oc­to­ber 2015, and it be­gan to be im­ple­mented na­tion­wide in 2016.

The new sta­tis­tics make it clear that some fam­i­lies got started early in their plan­ning for a sec­ond child, be­fore the pol­icy be­came of­fi­cial. The num­bers are an­tic­i­pated to go up for the year’s sec­ond half.

“We ex­pect a clear in­crease in the to­tal births for this year, and an even larger share of sec­ond-child new­borns,” the com­mis­sion said.

That’s an im­por­tant de­vel­op­ment, said Yuan Xin, a pop­u­la­tion sci­en­tist at Tian­jin-based Nankai Uni­ver­sity, who ad­vises the com­mis­sion.

“If this grows into a trend, then the new-two-child pol­icy will prove to be work­ing,” Yuan said. What he means by “work­ing”, Yuan stressed, is that the pol­icy would held re­dress, over the long run, the chal­lenge from a dwin­dling work force and rapidly ag­ing pop­u­la­tion.

The two-child pol­icy is ex­pected to help push for­ward China’s pop­u­la­tion peak by two years to 2029, when­there will be 1.45 bil­lion peo­ple, the com­mis­sion state­ment said.

Then the size of pop­u­la­tion will start ta­per­ing off, be­com­ing sta­ble at around 1.38 bil­lion, com­pared with around 1.2 bil­lion with­out the pol­icy change, it said.

“The long-term ef­fect of the uni­ver­sal two-child pol­icy, thus, is sig­nif­i­cant to China’s sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment,” Yuan said.

By the year 2050, it is ex­pected to re­sult in an ex­tra 30 mil­lion work­ing-age peo­ple and lower the ag­ing rate by 2 per­cent, com­mis­sion pro­jec­tions show.

How­ever, “that’s based on op­ti­mistic es­ti­ma­tions,” Yuan said. “Un­cer­tain­ties over the long run re­main, like if the younger peo­ple are will­ing to have a sec­ond baby, to sus­tain growth.”

He said the pol­icy would, in five years, prob­a­bly bring about 15 mil­lion ex­tra new­borns. Af­ter 2020 the an­nual births would start flat­ten­ing out af­ter hit­ting around 18 mil­lion. Last year, there were 16.65 mil­lion new­borns, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Bureau of Sta­tis­tics.

Roughly 60 per­cent of the women el­i­gi­ble to the right of one ad­di­tional child­birth are at least 35 years old.

Many of these women aged 35 and older are now rush­ing against the tick­ing clock of weak­en­ing fer­til­ity to have a sec­ond baby. That means, Yuan said, “there will be a vir­tual traf­fic jam in new­born ba­bies in China in next few years”.

Within a few years, sec­ond chil­dren would ac­count for 40 to 50 per­cent of the to­tal num­ber of new­borns, he pro­jected.

Bai Ying, 36, a Bei­jing­based en­gi­neer, is now four months preg­nant with a sec­ond child.

“I am con­cerned about the birth pileup as the fu­ture com­pe­ti­tion in ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment will be­come even tougher for my sec­ond baby. But my age doesn’t al­low me to wait any more,” she said.

The fam­ily plan­ning com­mis­sion pledged in its state­ment to col­lab­o­rate with other de­part­ments to make it eas­ier to raise chil­dren. Perks in tax­a­tion, ma­ter­nity leave and ed­u­ca­tion are be­ing con­sid­ered for fam­i­lies with two chil­dren.

But it also stressed the long-term pop­u­la­tion pres­sure that could be ex­erted on lim­ited re­sources and the en­vi­ron­ment in China.

So, “the coun­try will stick to fam­ily plan­ning,” it said. There is no timetable for elim­i­nat­ing gov­ern­ment rules on the num­ber of chil­dren born to a fam­ily.

For women like Bai, the new­born traf­fic jam is be­ing felt the most in large cities.

“I think I will de­liver my baby in a pri­vate hos­pi­tal, which is ex­pen­sive, since it’s hard to land a bed in large pub­lic hos­pi­tals. It would be too crowded, be­sides,” she said.

If this grows into a trend, then the new two-child pol­icy will prove to be work­ing.” Yuan Xin, a pop­u­la­tion sci­en­tist at Tian­jin-based Nankai Uni­ver­sity

LI HAO / FOR CHINA DAILY

A cou­ple both born af­ter 1990 hold their chil­dren, an in­fant daugh­ter and her 18-month-old el­der brother, in Shenyang, Liaon­ing prov­ince, on Jan 3. Many cou­ples re­sponded to the chance to have a sec­ond child af­ter poli­cies were eased.

ZHAO XIAOMING / XIN­HUA

Preg­nant women line up for health ex­am­i­na­tions at a ma­ter­nity clinic in Ji­nan, Shan­dong prov­ince, on March 15.

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