China birth rate falls despite policy shift to two children

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When Xu Yan was deciding on whether to take advantage of the loosening of China’s one-child policy and have another baby, financial realities meant she and her husband ultimately decided against it.

“I basically don’t have the money for a second child,” says Xu (35), who works at a food company in Harbin, Heilongjiang province.

The detested policy restricting families to one child was introduced in 1979, with heavy fines for anyone breaking the rules and in some cases forced abortions. In 2015, amid concerns about an ageing population and shrinking workforce, the rules were relaxed and a two-child policy was introduced.

The liberalisation was welcomed, and in 2016 the number of births rose nearly 8 per cent, and nearly half of the babies born were to couples who already had a child.

But fresh data shows the birth rate in China is continuing to fall. There were 17.2 million births last year, down from 17.9 million in 2016, according to the country’s National Bureau of Statistics.

In 2017, the number of second children increased by 1.62 million, but the number of first births dropped 2.49 million for an overall decline. This is partly because the number of women in their 20s is falling, and also people are marrying later.

Middle class

A further factor in the declining birth rate is that, with an expanding middle class, raising a child in China is becoming more costly.

“If you want to provide the child with a better education, it’s very expensive. Also a lot of lot of families can’t afford a bigger apartment, so two children have to share a room and if one gets sick, the other will be sick as well,” says Xu.

“In my family, all the extra classes for my son cost more than 1,000 yuan (€127) a month. If my son doesn’t take any extra classes, he will be left behind.”

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