As world population hits 8 billion, China frets over too few babies

BEIJING/HONG KONG, Nov 14 2011 (Reuters) – Chinese software developer Tang Huajun says he is unlikely to have another child, although he loves to play with his two-year-old son at their home on the outskirts of Beijing.

Countless people like Tang make such decisions that shape not only the Chinese people but the course of the world, which the United Nations said Tuesday will reach 8 billion.

Tang, 39, said many of his married friends only have one child and, like him, no longer plan. Young people are not even interested in getting married, let alone having children, he said.

The high cost of child care is a major barrier to having children in China, with many families unable to get help from grandparents who may live far away in an increasingly mobile society.

“Another reason is that many of us are getting married too late and it’s hard to get pregnant,” Tang said. “I think late marriage definitely has an effect on fertility.”

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China has been dealing with runaway population growth for decades. From 1980 to 2015, she introduced a strict one-child policy to control the numbers.

But now, the United Nations expects China’s population to start declining from next year, when India could become the world’s most populous country.

China’s fertility rate in 2021 was 1.16, below 2.1 for the OECD population and among the lowest in the world.

Anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic and China’s strict containment measures have had a major impact on many people’s desire to have children, demographers say.

New births in China are set to hit record lows this year, according to demographers, down from 10.6 million last year – 11.5 percent lower than in 2020.

Beijing began allowing couples to have up to three children last year, and the government says it is working to achieve an “appropriate” birth rate.

Old people, new problems

For planners, a shrinking population creates a new set of problems.

“We expect the aging population to increase very rapidly,” said Shen Jianfa, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The population over the age of 65 is currently at 13%, but is set to grow significantly. A shrinking workforce faces the burden of caring for an ever-increasing population of elderly people.

“It’s going to be very high for a few years,” Shane said of the proportion of seniors in the population. “That is why the country must prepare for the coming old age.”

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Alarmed by the prospect of an aging society, China is trying to encourage couples to have children with tax breaks and cash handouts, as well as generous maternity leave, medical insurance and housing subsidies.

But demographers say the measures aren’t enough. They cite the high cost of education, low wages and long working hours, along with frustration over the Covid restrictions and the general state of the economy.

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Professor Stuart Gittel Baston says the key is youth employment.

“Why do people have so many children when they can’t even get a job?”

Reporting by Thomas Suin and Farah Masters; Editing by Robert Birsle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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