China has dropped one of it’s most famous, and disastrous, policies.
They say that demographics is destiny, and if that’s true, China’s in trouble.
We do hear a lot of people fretting about the rise of China. You hear so much of it that you begin to think that China has the world at its feet, and Chinese domination of the globe is inevitable.
China actually has its fair share of challenges ahead of it.
And one of those is demographics.
The Chinese population is ageing quickly, and the population looks set to go into decline some time in the next decade!
Not by the end of the century, in the next ten years.
The working age population peaked in 2010:
While the number of births in the official (=often made up) data shows that last year the number births fell to the lowest level since 1961!
That’s the actual number of births. Not births as a share of the population. The actual number. That’s staggering.
A lot of this comes from the disastrous (in hindsight) one-child policy.
This came in in 1979, as Chinese leaders worried if their economy would be able to support a growing population.
Predictably, birth rates collapsed.
However the children of today are the breeders of tomorrow, and China now faces a greying (a greater proportion of the population are past working age) and shrinking population.
Hardly a cornerstone of global dominance.
Seeing the collision course its on, China is now rapidly trying to change course. In 2016 they removed the one child policy in favour of a two child-policy. Last week they announced they’re going to a three-child policy. From Reuters:
Married Chinese couples may have up to three children, China announced on Monday, in a major shift from the existing limit of two after recent data showed a dramatic decline in births in the world’s most populous country.
The policy change will come with “supportive measures, which will be conducive to improving our country's population structure, fulfilling the country's strategy of actively coping with an ageing population”, the official Xinhua news agency said following a politburo meeting chaired by President Xi Jinping.
Among those measures, China will lower educational costs for families, step up tax and housing support, guarantee the legal interests of working women and clamp down on “sky-high” dowries, it said, without giving specifics. It would also look to educate young people “on marriage and love”.
China had a fertility rate of just 1.3 children per woman in 2020, recent data showed, on par with ageing societies like Japan and Italy and far short of the roughly 2.1 needed for replacement level.
However, this may be too little too late. The real problem is that you can’t force people to have kids, and many people simply don’t want to.
Having kids is expensive, and when you’re struggling to get by, the prospect of another mouth to feed can be off-putting. China might be talking a good game with promises of “supportive measures”, but the life-time cost of raising a child is massive, and it’s not something a few childcare vouchers is going to fix.
(Though educating people on “marriage and love” – that’s obviously going to move the needle.)
And the reception, within China, has been pretty luke-warm to say the least.
There was a poll on Xinhua (the official news site), which asked #AreYouReady to have another child.
Of the 31,000 respondents, 29,000 (93%!) said they would “never even think of it”.
(The poll was censored – I mean – later removed for some unknown reason.)
China’s in a bind here.
You can’t just engineer a massive social shift like that. The number of kids a nation has is socially determined. You build up a bunch of cultural norms around how many kids you have. You build up supporting infrastructure.
You can’t turn on a dime here.
But China’s giving it a red hot go.
Good luck to them.
But however it plays out, for now, demographics is not China’s friend.