En­cour­age child­bear­ing for a bet­ter fu­ture

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Views -

Ed­i­tor’s note: Some de­mog­ra­phers have ad­vo­cated that more poli­cies be in­tro­duced to re­verse the low birth rate. Has China in­deed reached the stage where fer­til­ity needs to be boosted? And how should China deal with the ag­ing pop­u­la­tion? Three ex­perts share their views on the is­sues with China Daily’s Liu Jianna. Ex­cerpts fol­low:

Need to raise fer­til­ity rate

Li Jian­min, a pro­fes­sor at the In­sti­tute of Pop­u­la­tion and De­vel­op­ment, Nankai Univer­sity

To ad­dress the pop­u­la­tion is­sue as a whole, we should take into con­sid­er­a­tion ref­er­ences as well as the ab­so­lute num­bers. Some ar­gue China has a large pop­u­la­tion ir­re­spec­tive of its vast geo­graph­i­cal ter­ri­tory. Yet com­pared with coun­tries such as Ja­pan and the Repub­lic of Korea, China’s pop­u­la­tion den­sity is low.

For decades, China has main­tained a rel­a­tively low an­nual pop­u­la­tion growth rate. In fact, it could ex­pe­ri­ence neg­a­tive growth as early as in 2027, or 2026, if the fer­til­ity rate is not boosted.

The shrink­ing pop­u­la­tion growth rate and pop­u­la­tion struc­ture prob­lems — mainly man­i­fested in the grow­ing num- ber of se­nior cit­i­zens and ris­ing de­pen­dency ra­tio — to­gether pose a grave threat to China’s over­all eco­nomic and so­cial de­vel­op­ment.

That’s why some ex­perts have ad­vo­cated that the pop­u­la­tion struc­ture be ad­justed. Yet given that China can­not pos­si­bly add to the work­force on a large scale through im­mi­gra­tion as Ger­many and France did in the past decades, boost­ing the fer­til­ity rate is the only way to in­crease the new­born pop­u­la­tion and im­prove the pop­u­la­tion struc­ture.

Chi­nese cou­ples’ de­clin­ing de­sire to have chil­dren — the birth rate has fallen to about 1.7 chil­dren per cou­ple — is quite dan­ger­ous. But many Chi­nese cou­ples want to have just one child, or none at all, be­cause of the soar­ing eco­nomic and so­cial cost of child­bear­ing. To solve this prob­lem, the au­thor­i­ties have to take mea­sures to in­crease peo­ple’s house­hold in­come and sig­nif­i­cantly lower the cost of rais­ing chil­dren.

Avoid fo­cus­ing only on pop­u­la­tion size

Ge Daoshun, a re­search fel­low at the Na­tional In­sti­tute of So­cial De­vel­op­ment, Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences

Given the cur­rent dy­nam­ics in China’s pop­u­la­tion scale, its to­tal pop­u­la­tion is ex­pected to grad­u­ally de­cline after reach­ing a peak of 1.5 bil­lion or 1.6 bil­lion. Con­trary to most ar­gu­ments, it is un­nec­es­sary to make the to­tal pop­u­la­tion a big is­sue, as it re­quires much more than a large pop­u­la­tion to make a coun­try a ma­jor power.

None­the­less, the gov­ern­ment should try its best to en­cour­age child­bear­ing to ad­just the pop­u­la­tion struc­ture, so as to bet­ter deal with the ag­ing pop­u­la­tion is­sue. To be­gin with, the typ­i­cal “4-2-1” (four grand­par­ents, two par­ents and one child) fam­ily struc­ture, a byprod­uct of the strict fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy in the past decades, has fur­ther twisted the pop­u­la­tion struc­ture and in­creased the ra­tio of se­nior cit­i­zens in the to­tal pop­u­la­tion.

Also, de­spite the ad­vance­ments made in sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing those in the ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and robotics, ro­bots can­not re­place hu­man work­ers in all the in­dus­tries in­clud­ing the ser­vice sec­tor. Which means the need for hu­man work­ers will re­main.

So a ba­sic State pol­icy to en­cour­age cou­ples to have two chil­dren should be in­tro­duced. But still, China’s pop­u­la­tion de­cline after peak­ing at 1.5 bil­lion or 1.6 bil­lion can only be slowed, not re­versed.

More im­por­tant, the threat of an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion should not be over­es­ti­mated as the ag­ing rate re­mains low na­tion­wide. Be­sides, the im­pli­ca­tions of an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion are quite dif­fer­ent to­day from what they were decades ago. In the past, peo­ple above 60 needed a lot of care, but to­day peo­ple in their 60s, even 70s, in gen­eral, can take care of them­selves.

Also, pilot projects for longterm care in­sur­ance have been launched in cities such as Shang­hai, and Qing­dao, Shan­dong prov­ince, and they are ex­pected to play an im­por­tant role in im­prov­ing the lives of se­nior cit­i­zens suf­fer­ing ill­nesses.

As long as the el­der­care poli­cies are well de­signed and el­der­care re­sources ef­fec­tively used, China will be able to han­dle the ag­ing pop­u­la­tion is­sue.

Ag­ing pop­u­la­tion not a big prob­lem

Mu Guang­zong, a pro­fes­sor at the In­sti­tute of Pop­u­la­tion Re­search, Pek­ing Univer­sity

The low birth rate and grow­ing im­bal­ance in the pop­u­la­tion struc­ture pose sub­stan­tial risks to so­cio-eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. The pop­u­la­tion size is only a part of the pop­u­la­tion is­sue; the crux lies in the struc­ture and func­tion of the pop­u­la­tion. Re­al­iz­ing a moder­ately low birth rate and or­derly pop­u­la­tion move­ment is the key to im­prove and op­ti­mize the age struc­ture of China’s pop­u­la­tion un­der open con­di­tions.

China en­tered an era of low birth rate in the early 1990s, which is not con­ducive to sus­tain­able pop­u­la­tion growth and the over­all har­mo­nious de­vel­op­ment of so­ci­ety. Now that hav­ing one child has more or less be­come the norm for cou­ples, the gov­ern­ment should build a fam­ily and child­bear­ing-friendly en­vi­ron­ment to help raise the birth rate.

Also, be­sides pro­mot­ing healthy ag­ing and ac­tive ag­ing among se­nior cit­i­zens, China should also de­vise a strat­egy for har­mo­nious and mod­er­ate ag­ing with Chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics. Har­mo­nious ag­ing stresses the har­mony be­tween body and mind, and hu­mans and na­ture, while mod­er­ate ag­ing em­pha­sizes the in­ter­nal co­or­di­na­tion and bal­anced de­vel­op­ment in the pop­u­la­tion’s age struc­ture.

The fact that se­nior cit­i­zens can con­tinue to con­trib­ute to so­ci­ety should also be pro­moted. As the builders of Chi­nese so­ci­ety, se­nior cit­i­zens have gath­ered much valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence, which should be put to fruit­ful use.

CAI MENG / CHINA DAILY

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