In China, the most populated country in the world, the birthrate is plummeting, with a 15% fall in 2020. Some cities and regions recorded drops of more than 25%. The number of new birth registrations in 2020 was 10.035m, compared with 11.8m in 2019. The 2019 figure marked the lowest point since the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949. The government has tried to encourage couples to have more children, but a 2017 study found 50% of families with one child had no intention of having a second.
The reasons for the low birthrates include the high costs of housing and education, and growing rejection of marriage among young women. In 2019 the marriage rate hit a 14-year low.
The decline in births has prompted warnings for China’s economy as its population ages quickly without sufficient support for all elderly people. About one-third of the population is predicted to be aged over 60 by the year 2050, and a 2019 report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said the state pension fund was likely to run out of money by 2035.
Prof Peter McDonald, of the University of Melbourne’s school of population and global health, said, the ongoing impact from coronavirus would be relatively small because the birth rate has been falling for years and the total population was already on a downward curve, despite the lifting of the one-child policy in 2016, which brought only a short-lived spike.
“It showed that the China fertility rate was reflecting what was going on in society, and that was that people only really wanted a small number of children,” McDonald said. “Even in areas where the one-child policy was not applied, the birthrate was low.”
Lijia Shang, a writer, journalist and social commentator, said there was a change in attitude and many women – especially urban-living and highly educated – no longer regarded marriage and parenthood as “necessary passages in life or the essential ingredients of a happy life. In another word, it is about choice. Better education, higher income and more career options grant these women the freedom to choose a lifestyle they desire. They are assertive enough to resist the pressure from their parents to produce children. And the society is more tolerant than before.”
Xiong Jing, a feminist activist based in China, said the social support system for new mothers was lacking, with inadequate parental leave, gender discrimination in the workplace, high expense and competitiveness in childcare, and social pressures on women to be the primary carer.
Liang Jianzhang, an economics professor at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management. “If the fertility rate cannot be increased significantly, this decline will not bottom out,” he said.