By 2050, analysts predict one in four people in China will be retired and the working population will have shrunk by 10%, with huge economic implications, reports the Guardian.
Women are ‘invisible’
For three-and-a-half decades, the one-child policy that was meant to control the population exacted a huge social and human cost on Chinese society. Forced abortions, sterilisations, the use of intrauterine contraceptive devices as well as hefty financial penalties left physical and emotional scars on millions of women and traumatised families.
Thirty-five years after the one-child policy’s implementation, China is left with one of the lowest birthrates in the world.
Fearing the adverse social effects of an ageing population and a looming shortage of working-age people, the Chinese government has tried to boost the birthrate by partially lifting the one-child policy in 2013 and allowing couples to have two children if one of the spouses was an only child. In late 2015, the authorities announced all married couples could legally have two children.
But these measures failed to trigger a baby boom: In 2016, China reported 18.46 million births – just 1.4 million higher than the average number of births in the previous five years. The figure was well below the increase in births that the government had projected, which was between 2.3 and 4.3 million a year.
Declining birthrates seem to be irreversible
Annual births continued to drop thereafter: from 17.23 million in 2017 to 15.23 million in 2018, 14.65 million in 2019, 12 million in 2020, then to 10.62 million in 2021. The authorities further eased the birth limit in 2021, raising it to three children per couple.
“The declining birthrates seem to be irreversible, but the government does not have a gameplan,” Dr Ye Liu, a senior lecturer in international development at King’s College London says. “It’s all about the power of men over women and utilisation of women’s bodies as economic means. In short, men make policies for women. In the recent party congress, there were many promises made but none for women. Women are ‘invisible’.”
Chinese scholars campaigned to scrap the one-child policy for more than a decade, on the grounds that the country’s total fertility rate was worryingly behind the replacement rate. In the 1970s, the total fertility rate (births per woman) fell from 5.8 in 1970 to 2.75 in 1979. In the 1980s, the rate hovered above the replacement level of 2.1 that would allow the population to replace itself, but since the 1990s, it has declined to below the replacement level.
The 2010 and 2020 censuses yielded total fertility rates of 1.18 and 1.30 respectively. This further fell to an alarming 1.15 in 2021, according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics.
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Source: The Guardian