Shan­dong births drop, hint­ing at trend

China Daily - - CHINA - By ZHAO RUIXUE and WANG XIAOYU Con­tact the writ­ers at wangx­i­[email protected]­nadaily.com.cn Wang Xiaodong con­trib­uted to this story.

Births in Shan­dong prov­ince — a barom­e­ter of the na­tional birth trend — are be­lieved to have slumped last year, fol­low­ing a baby boom, lend­ing cre­dence to pro­jec­tions of a sub­stan­tial drop in China’s to­tal births.

“The num­ber of births in Shan­dong in 2018 is ex­pected to have fallen by 15 to 20 per­cent. The pro­por­tion of sec­ond chil­dren is also likely to have shrunk,” said Cui Shuyi, head of the pop­u­la­tion re­search in­sti­tute at the Shan­dong Academy of So­cial Sciences.

Shan­dong has es­tab­lished a rep­u­ta­tion for fer­til­ity in re­cent years, with new births — fol­low­ing the change of fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy in late 2015 — ac­count­ing for more than 10 per­cent of China’s to­tal births in 2016 and 2017.

More than 63 per­cent of the ba­bies born in Shan­dong in 2016 were sec­ond chil­dren, with the per­cent­age ris­ing to al­most 67 per­cent in 2017, ac­cord­ing to the provin­cial health au­thor­ity. The na­tional ra­tio was around 50 per­cent.

Cui said the trend of sec­ond chil­dren out­num­ber­ing first chil­dren in Shan­dong will fade soon, given that most women who planned to have a sec­ond child did so soon after the pol­icy’s im­ple­men­ta­tion.

His pre­dic­tion aligns with data re­leased by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties in Shan­dong. From Jan­uary to Novem­ber, the city of Qing­dao recorded a year-on-year drop of about 20 per­cent in new­borns, and the num­ber of sec­ond chil­dren born fell by 29 per­cent, the mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment said in mid-De­cem­ber.

It’s es­ti­mated the city had 90,000 births in 2018, sig­nif­i­cantly down from 118,400 in 2016 and 115,700 in 2017.

Liaocheng, in the western part of the prov­ince, logged a 26 per­cent year-on-year de­crease in new­borns from Jan­uary to Novem­ber — 23,179 fewer ba­bies — and the num­ber of chil­dren born to fam­i­lies who al­ready had a child dropped by nearly 36 per­cent, the city’s health com­mis­sion said last month.

Other ma­jor cities with pop­u­la­tions of more than 5 mil­lion, in­clud­ing Yan­tai, Dezhou and Weifang, also re­ported de­clines in births — rang­ing from 16 to 22 per­cent — in the first half of 2018.

The wide­spread de­crease in births across Shan­dong has re­newed con­cerns about a sub­stan­tial drop in births na­tion­wide last year.

In Novem­ber, Zhai Zhenwu, pres­i­dent of the China Pop­u­la­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, said the num­ber of births in China was ex­pected to de­crease in 2018, as part of an in­evitable trend fol­low­ing rapid eco­nomic and so­ci­etal de­vel­op­ment.

On Jan 3, Huang Kuang­shi, a re­searcher at the China Pop­u­la­tion and De­vel­op­ment Re­search Cen­ter, said the num­ber of new­borns for 2018 would be be­tween 15 mil­lion and 16 mil­lion — a drop of more than 1 mil­lion from the pre­vi­ous year.

Their fore­casts seem to be sup­ported by the fig­ures from Shan­dong, Cui said.

“The prov­ince has al­ways thor­oughly im­ple­mented the coun­try’s fam­ily plan­ning agenda, from the one-child limit to the sec­ond-child rule that came into force in re­cent years,” he said. “Thus, its shift in fer­til­ity is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the coun­try’s sit­u­a­tion.”

In re­sponse to a ques­tion from a re­porter at a news con­fer­ence on Fri­day re­fer­ring to a de­mog­ra­pher’s es­ti­mate that the num­ber of births may have fallen by as much as 2 mil­lion last year, the Na­tional Health Com­mis­sion said it is closely mon­i­tor­ing pop­u­la­tion fluc­tu­a­tions and will in­ten­sify re­search on birthrates.

It added that the au­thor­i­ties will re­lease of­fi­cial data from last year soon.

Tao Tao, a pop­u­la­tion re­searcher at Ren­min Univer­sity of China, said a shrink­ing pool of women of child­bear­ing age has con­trib­uted to the de­clin­ing birthrate.

“The num­ber of women be­tween 15 and 49 in China has been fall­ing since 2011, the year when it peaked,” she said.

Tao said the av­er­age ages of women bear­ing their first and sec­ond child have both risen by one year over the past three years, which also af­fected fer­til­ity.

“Since 2000, the new­born pop­u­la­tion has been fluc­tu­at­ing be­tween 15 and 18 mil­lion,” she said. “We should take an ob­jec­tive view of last year’s fig­ure in the long run.”

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