As world population hits 8 billion, China frets over too few babies

BEIJING/HONG KONG, Nov 14 (Reuters) – Chinese software developer Tang Huajun loves playing with his two-year-old at their flat on the outskirts of Beijing, but said he was unlikely to have a another child.

Such decisions by countless people like Tang will determine not only China’s population, but also the world’s, which the United Nations predicted will reach 8 billion on Tuesday.

Tang, 39, said many of his married friends only had one child and, like him, they weren’t planning anything anymore. Young people are not even interested in getting married let alone having babies, he said.

The high cost of childcare is a major deterrent to having children in China, with many families in an increasingly mobile society unable to rely on help from grandparents who may live far away.

“Another reason is that many of us get married very late and it’s hard to get pregnant,” Tang said. “I think getting married late will definitely have an impact on births.”

China has for decades been concerned about the prospect of runaway population growth and imposed a strict one-child policy from 1980 to 2015 to control the numbers.

But now the United Nations expects China’s population to start declining from next year, when India is likely to become the world’s most populous country.

China’s fertility rate of 1.16 in 2021 was below the OECD standard of 2.1 for a stable population and among the lowest in the world.

Anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic and China’s tough measures to eradicate it may also have had a profound impact on many people’s desire to have children, demographers say.

New births in China are expected to fall to record highs this year, demographers say, dropping below 10 million from last year’s 10.6 million – which was already 11.5% lower than in 2020.

Beijing last year began allowing couples to have up to three children and the government said it was working to achieve an “appropriate” birth rate.

ELDERLY PEOPLE, NEW PROBLEMS

For planners, a dwindling population poses a whole new set of problems.

“We expect the aging population to grow very rapidly. This is a very important situation China is facing, different from 20 years ago,” said Shen Jianfa, a professor at China University of China. Hong Kong.

The proportion of the population aged over 65 is now around 13% but is expected to rise sharply. A declining workforce faces the growing burden of caring for the growing number of older people.

“It will be very high for a few years,” Shen said of the proportion of elderly people in the population. “That is why the country must prepare for the aging to come.”

Alarmed by the prospect of an aging society, China has tried to encourage couples to have more children with tax breaks and cash grants, as well as more generous maternity leave, medical insurance and subsidies. to housing.

But demographers say measurements are not enough. They cite high education costs, low wages and notoriously long working hours, as well as frustration with COVID restrictions and the overall state of the economy.

A key factor is job prospects for young people, said Stuart Gietel Basten, a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

“Why would you have more babies when the people you have can’t even find jobs?”

Reporting by Thomas Suen and Farah Master; Editing by Robert Birsel

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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