China introduces three-child policy after mounting concerns about birth rate

Chinese families will be allowed to have three children in a huge policy shift that has overturned the two-child policy. The country is currently facing a declining birth rate and ageing population which has resulted in concerns among policymakers.

From one to three children: the policy’s history

In 1979, the Chinese government introduced the one-child policy to combat the strain on resources from a rapidly growing population. While there were some exceptions, especially in rural areas, this remained commonplace for over three decades.

In 2013, couples in which one parent was an only child were allowed to have two children. Three years later, in 2016, China announced that all couples could have two children as the pressures of the ageing population became more acute.

Growing concerns about China’s declining birth rate

China’s birth rate has dropped significantly despite the implementation of the two-child policy and government initiatives which encourage women to give birth. The high cost of living in cities and career motivations are putting off many young couples from starting families. 

China’s seventh national census showed that the number of newborns in 2020 had fallen to 12 million, a yearly drop of 2.65 million. This marks a 33% decline from 2016 when the birth planning policy was relaxed.

China is facing a demographic challenge that is not just limited to falling birth rates. The country also has an ageing population with 18.70% of the total population aged over 60, i.e. 264.02 million people. This represents a 5.44% increase from a decade ago.

Politburo take action with policy shift

Following the results of the census being published last month, there has been growing pressure on the government to address the population challenges.

The statement about the change in policy came after a meeting of the Politburo, China’s top decision-making body, on 31 May. According to Xinhuanet, at the meeting, officials discussed a series of measures to encourage couples to marry and have children while also addressing social conditions for families. These include:

  • Eradicating unacceptable marriage-related social customs such as excessive spending on dowries, vulgar wedding practices
  • Achieving equality of educational resources
  • Improving childcare services
  • Reducing families’ expenditure on education 
  • Improving maternity leave and job insurance system 
  • Strengthening taxation, housing and other social support 
  • Protecting the legitimate rights and interests of women in employment

The public reaction to the new policy

The policy has been unpopular among China’s young generation who commented that the fundamental issues preventing families from having more children are high living costs and huge work and social pressures. Many online users complained that they are not willing to have one child, let alone three. A poll conducted by state media Xinhua asking users’ response to the policy was quickly taken down after votes were overwhelmingly dominated by “I am not considering three kids at all” (which received 30,000 votes).

The hashtag ‘#the three-child policy is coming’ (#三孩生育政策来了) hit 4 billion views and 620,000 comments on Weibo. 

“Living costs, education costs, women’s employment rate, these are all problems that people need to consider. The policy won’t lead to an increase in the birth rate because the policy is not the reason why women are not giving birth currently.” 

“If women have three children, it will be difficult for them to find time to work.”

“The government encourages women not to be a housewife but also urges them to have three children. Doesn’t that sound contradictory?”

Netizens’ comments

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