First, before you get too excited, the parameters, from The New York Times, today:
China is not doing away with the one-child policy, which still largely applies to urban residents, but is allowing more exceptions to the rule. Shanghai, one of China’s biggest cities with 20 million residents, is leading the effort.
Now the full story, from the Times Online, today…
China is taking the first step towards reversing its “one-child policy”, with the authorities in the second city of Shanghai now actively encouraging thousands of couples to have a second baby.
For the first time in decades, local officials in China’s economic capital have urged eligible parents to plan for a second child. The move was prompted by the city’s growing demographic imbalance and fears that the young generation will not be able to support the rapidly aging population.
China has operated a strict “one couple, one child” policy for 30 years, carefully monitoring pregnancies and even forcing abortions on women who already have children to control a population that is the world’s largest at more than 1.3 billion….
The appeal from officials in Shanghai is the first time in decades, however, that the government has actively encouraged procreation….
“We advocate eligible couples to have 2 kids because it can help to reduce the proportion of the aging people and alleviate a workforce shortage in the future,” said Xie Linli, director of the Shanghai Population and Family Planning Commission….
Zhang Meixin, a spokesman for the commission, said that there were already more than 3 million people over the age of 60 in Shanghai, or 21.6% of the population. “That is already near the average figure of developed countries and is still rising quickly,” he said.
By 2020, the proportion of elderly is expected to rise to 34% of the city’s population.
Across China as a whole, the population is rising at as similar rate and the working-age population is set to start shrinking from about 2015. The overall population will peak in 2030 with China becoming the first country to grow old before it grows rich – and thus able to support a nation of pensioners.
Most newly married couples registered in the Shanghai metropolis are both only children and thus already eligible to have 2 babies, but many do not take up the privilege. The number of such couples has risen to 7,300 last year from 4,300 in 2005.
The spokesman said: “The current average number of children born to a woman over her lifetime is lower than one. If all couples have children according to the policy, it would definitely help relieve pressure in the long term.”
Many young couples are willing to have one child to continue the family line, but they then hand over the baby to grandparents and prefer to enjoy their own leisure time, frequenting bars, clubs and restaurants, going shopping and travelling further afield without being restricted by the responsibilities of children.
In Shanghai, where the rise in incomes is among the fastest in the country, young couples want to enjoy a level prosperity unknown for more than a century.
The Shanghai announcement sparked heated debate on the internet and an online opinion poll suggested that most people were opposed to the move.
One chatroom commentator said: “This should have been done long ago, otherwise in a few years a child will have no uncles, no aunts. These titles will be completely forgotten.”
But most web-users appeared to be less than enthusiastic, complaining that the cost of raising a child in China was prohibitive now. One said: “These days who dares to have a second baby? The cost of living and education are so high. Best not to have one at all.”
Another commented: “It’s not that I don’t want to have children, but it’s that I can’t afford to.”
One poster remembered the policies of the 1950s and 1960s when Chairman Mao actively appealed for large families. “Our parents were poor and they had 5 or 6 children. Now we are better off but having even one baby is difficult. In the future we may not be willing even to have one and it will be like the West with a falling population. Terrible!”
The US-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies warned in April that by 2050 China would have more than 438 million people over the age of 60, with more than 100 million aged 80 and above. The country will have just 1.6 working-age adults to support every person aged 60 and above, compared with 7.7 in 1975.
The country’s underfunded state pension system and shrinking family size has removed a traditional layer of support for elders, leaving society ill-prepared to cope with an aging population.
It’s as if China didn’t see this coming, which I have a hard time believing. Then again, none of the overpopulation zealots seem to get it. (Although I still think China did this as part of a master plan to bulk up its military with men who would never marry. And if they die, so what, all the better.)
[HT: moderator Carder; photo attribution: Times Online]