According to statistics from the Evergrande Research Institute, which specializes in real estate-related research, in 2018, the number of new births in China fell below 15 million. The subject came under Evergrande's ambit as a decline in the birth rate is bound to deal a blow to the property industry.
The figure indicates that although the two-child policy was extensively adopted in 2015, replacing the outdated one-child policy from the early 1980s, encouraging every couple to have two children, the birth rate has not increased as sharply as expected.
Even though the two-child policy was not fully in place in 2014, new births that year reached 16.87 million. After the one-child policy ended in September 2015, new births increased to 17.86 million in 2016, the fastest growth since 2000. However, in 2017, new births dropped to 17.23 million and in 2018, to less than 15 million.
Although 2018 marked the third year of the two-child policy, the birth rate saw a decline instead of an expected rise. If this trend continues, the demographic dividends China once enjoyed will vanish.
A continued low birth rate will result in the rapid aging of the population. This has two effects. First, elderly people will comprise a big chunk of the population, and second, the median age of the population will rise. In 2017, 17.3 percent of China's population was 60 years old or above.
While the 2016 birth rate indicated that by 2030, the proportion of people aged 60 or more would reach 25 percent of the population, the 2016-18 birth rate prognoses that this age group will hit 30 percent of the population instead, indicating an escalation.
In 2015, the median age of the Chinese population stood at 37. However, Evergrande predicted that the age will rise to 43 in 2030 and 50 in 2050 if the current trend continues.
Accelerated aging of the population will advance the grim spectacle of getting old before getting wealthy. Since the late 1970s, labor resource sufficiency was a crucial factor for China's economic take-off. But long-term low birth rates will dry up the labor pool. In 2017, China's dependency rate was 39.2 percent, with a relatively low burden of senior care on the work-age population.
Although China's economic aggregate ranks second in the world, its per-capita GDP remains low. China needs to sustain new births at a rational rate before the dependency ratio expands, instead of standing by while the birth rate is on the decline.
There are four major reasons why the birth rate is diving.
First, although the Chinese tradition holds that having more children means more wealth and happiness, the family-planning policy adopted in 1978 to alleviate pressure on various resources put the one-child policy at its core. Focusing on the quality of the population, it allowed every couple to have only one child and remained in effect until 2014.
The tricky thing was that the one-child policy made many couples of child-bearing age feel that having one child was also good. They no longer believed in the traditional idea of having more than one child, even though the current policy encourages them to have two.
Second, while China's economy is making great strides, the burden of living on people's shoulders is also increasing. The cost of housing, education and medical care keeps surging, together with huge pressure to support the elderly. The willingness to have more children is thus curbed.
According to sample statistics by Edu.sina.com.cn, a portal providing comprehensive information on China, on average, educational expenses during preschool account for 26 percent of a family's annual income. During primary and middle school, it accounts for 21 percent, and 29 percent during the college period. One more child will strain a family's economic resources and its overall quality of life.
Third, the number of women of child-bearing age is falling. According to Evergrande, by 2030, the number of women aged between 20 and 35 will plummet by 31 percent compared with 2017.
Fourth, Chinese women's independence is improving. Today, China has basically realized gender equality and in family life, women can have the final say. Women's academic education has been widely enhanced, bringing them more economic independence. Furthermore, more women choose to marry late in life or even not to marry at all. Some couples choose not to have children. All these factors have negative implications for China's birth rate.
Population is one of the basic factors and driving forces of economic and social development. In some Western countries, excessively low birth rates have triggered various problems, affecting social development. China should learn from these countries and take precautionary measures. To maintain a reasonable birth rate is a precondition for China's future development.
Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar
Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org