Chinese demography experts have called on the central government to further loosen its birth control policy within two years owing to a predicted population decline in 2018.
The warning came as the National Health and Family Planning Commission on Saturday announced that this year’s number of newborns would exceed 17.5 million – similar to the total number in 2000, online news portal Thepaper.cn reported.
Wang Peian, deputy director of the commission, China’s birth policy maker, said the new population total this year had met its expectations after it permitted all Chinese parents to have a second child from January 1 this year.
The commission’s estimates might be on target, but demographers said its figures did not include any reference to a harsher situation in the next two years, when newborn levels were expected to start to fall. As many women had already had their permitted second child the number of eligible childbearing women would fall, they said.
Many women had already had their permitted second child so the number of eligible childbearing women would drop, they said.
Huang Wenzheng, co-founder of Cnpop.org, a NGO analysing China’s demography and birth policies, said the number of Chinese women between the ages of 22 and 30 – the peak time for giving birth – would drop by about 40 per cent during the next 10 years.
China has one of the world’s lowest total fertility rates – the average number of children that are born to a woman during her lifetime. According to the 2016 China Statistical Yearbook, the country’s 2015 fertility rate was about 1.05 – far below the 2.1 rate needed to keep the population level steady.
If China maintains the fertility rate at such a low level, it will devastate the country’s economy, which has been struggling to cope with an ageing population and shrinking labour force.
“The fertility rate is not decided by the birth control policy but by a country’s economic development,” said He Yafu, author of The Uncontrollable Population Control.
“The more developed an economy is, the higher the cost will be to raise children and the lower the willingness of women to give birth,” he said.
A recent report published by Beijing Normal University said the easing of the birth policy would make it more difficult for women with children to find work in the increasingly competitive labour market as companies might prefer to hire only men.
It said mothers with two children living in urban areas had a higher chance of sacrificing their career development than those with only one child.
Chinese demographers have long been sceptical about the commission’s official fertility figures because it has a history of exaggerating its figures.
In 2000, the commission insisted that China had a total fertility rate of 1.8, which contrasted markedly with the rate of 1.2 recorded by the 2000 national census.
A decade later, the 2010 national census confirmed that the fertility rate in 2000 had been below 1.4.