China to allow couples to have 3 children as its population ages

China to allow couples to have 3 children as its population ages”

China's Communist Party says it will allow married couples to have up to three children instead of two in hopes of slowing the impact of an aging population.

"Allowing every couple to have three children and implementing related support policies will help improve the population's structure", the Xinhua News Agency reported, citing a Politburo meeting held Monday.

In 2016, China replaced its one-child policy - initially imposed to halt a population explosion at the time - with a two-child limit.

China had a fertility rate of just 1.3 children per woman in 2020, recent data showed, on par with ageing societies like Japan and Italy and far short of the roughly 2.1 needed for replacement level.

Early this month, China's once-in-a-decade census showed that the population grew at its slowest rate during the last decade since the 1950s, to 1.41 billion.

What was the "one child" policy?

Here is a timeline of the country's evolving family planning policy.

During the years of the policy, second children would not be registered in the household system unless a hefty fine was paid with some exceptions to this rule. Bloomberg Economics estimates the slowdown in population growth means the world's most populous country could peak before 2025.

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A 2015 study by the Academy of Macroeconomic Research at the National Development and Reform Commission found almost half of China's unregistered citizens were illiterate or lacked formal education.

"It doesn't take published census data to determine that China is facing a massive drop in births", said Huang Wenzheng, a demography expert at the Center for China and Globalisation, a Beijing-based think-tank.

Despite government efforts to encourage couples to have children, China's annual births have continued to plummet to a record low of 12 million in 2020, the National Bureau of Statistics said last month.

Despite concerns about demographic imbalance, Chinese leaders hesitated to simply abolish the one-child policy.

Restrictions that limited most couples to one child were eased in 2015 to allow all to have two. The shrill alarm for China's policymakers is that the world's second-biggest economy may already be in irreversible population decline without having first accumulated the household wealth of G7 nations.

"A fully liberalised birth policy should have been implemented at least five years ago, but it's too late now, although its better late than never", he said.

A third of Chinese are forecast to be elderly by 2050, heaping huge pressure on the state to provide pensions and healthcare.

The Politburo also said that China "will prudently lift the retirement age in a phased manner", according to the report of the meeting presided over by President Xi Jinping.

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