In the 1960s, the global fertility rate was five live births per woman, but by 2017, the fertility rate had dropped to 2.43. A stable population is critical for the global economy; it provides an efficient workforce to produce and buy more goods, spark innovation, and build homes. However, a high population also puts massive stress on the existing natural resources. According to estimates, world population is expected to reach a high point of 10 billion by 2100 before it starts falling due to low fertility rates.
Fertility Rates In China
In the 1930s, women in China were having an average of five children; 40 years later, the figure had grown to six. In the 1990s, however, it dropped drastically to 2.7. Over the following three decades, the fertility rate gradually declined to 1.6. The steep decline was attributed to the much-debated one-child policy effected by the Chinese government to curb rampant population growth. The birth control policy is currently relaxed.
Decline In Birth Rates In China
China’s fertility has been on a gradual decline since the 1930s, but it reached a critical point in the 1980s when the government launched the one-child policy. Between the late 1980s and early 1990s, a fertility rate of 2.85 was enough to maintain a consistent population, but since the mid-1990s, the fertility rate dropped beyond the replacement level. Although China has the world’s largest population, a persistent low birth rate would shrink this quickly. If the trend continues, China’s population will decline by over 600 million by the close of the century. In November 2015, the government lifted the one-child rule, allowing women to give birth without prior approval. A year later, the country reported 18.4 million births, a 1.4 million increase from the average of the preceding five years. This was way below the government projection of 4.3 million births. A weak response to a historic change in policy illustrates challenges facing the government today.
A Long-term Problem
China’s fertility decline occurred as the country entered the face of social and economic reforms. Since the early 1990s, the country has experienced rampant urbanization, improved higher education, and better living standards. The national average income has risen tenfold, while the urban population has nearly doubled. School enrollment has also increased significantly. The withdrawal of the one-child policy did not raise the fertility rate as expected due to two emerging socioeconomic phenomena; the rise in the cost of raising children and prioritizing personal growth and development. The socialist system that existed in the country before the 1970s delegated the collective role of child-rearing to the state in addition to employment, food, and housing. In the early 1980s, the system began breaking down end child-rearing became a family concern while unemployment, healthcare, and food became individual concerns. Young people migrated to cities that offered better economic opportunities. The cost of living, including housing, education, and health, skyrocketed. The young parents soon realized that raising children is expensive in terms of money and time. Many young couples think that raising children is expensive and opt for one child. About 70% of qualified couples do not have the intention of bearing a second child, suggesting that the low fertility rate is here to stay.
Implications Of Low Fertility
The prolonged period of low fertility since the 1980s has contributed to an aging population. According to the 2010 census, 14% of the population was above 60 years. Should the current trend continue, this will rise to about 25% by 2030. In the same period, the number of citizens in this age group will increase to about 350 million. The ratio between people aged between 20 -59 and those above 60 is set to halve over the next 20 years, posing a challenge to the country’s labor force. The three-decades-long one-child policy resulted in more than 150 million families with only one child. This trend is more pronounced in cities where 90% of young couples have one child. In the future, these children will bear the responsibility of providing economic support and care to elderly parents through personal support or taxes for government pensions.
Response To Low Fertility Rates
China has responded slowly to the low fertility rates and the aging population. In response, the country lifted the one-child policy and extended the retirement age. The change in policy did not give women freedom over reproduction since couples are still limited to two children. In addition to reforming reproduction policies, the government is facing daunting tasks in reforming healthcare systems and social security while creating family-friendly conditions for the younger generation. The social security system in China is inequitable and inadequate. About 30% of the elderly receive pension as income. The healthcare system has expanded to cover more people, but the extent of quality varies with the segment of society. The cost is also rising faster than income. Lack of affordable and accessible childcare compounded by problems in balancing family and work-life are pushing couples to defer parenting.