China was already at the center of the global decline in the birth rate before the coronavirus epidemic, but the decline has intensified in the two years since the virus first struck.
The drop in births reported in late 2020, according to UN Population Division head John Wilmoth, was “inconsistent with the regular seasonal swings in fertility” and “telling evidence” of the pandemic’s influence on birth rates. Covid-19’s effects are still being seen in cities like Shanghai, where lockdowns are in place as part of Beijing’s zero-Covid policy.
China was already on the verge of a population decrease. Decades of severe birth limits, combined with women’s increased participation in higher education and the salaried workforce, have shifted attitudes toward child-rearing. According to one Lancet report, if extraordinary efforts are not done to stop this trend, the country’s population could decrease by the end of the century, from 1.4 billion to 730 million. This presents Beijing with a policy conundrum: how to fund the elderly’s mounting pension and medical bills with the tax contributions of the dwindling working-age population.
As the birth rate decreases, fewer workers and consumers will contribute to economic growth.
Experts say the pandemic’s health and economic worries have prompted couples to postpone or abandon plans to marry and start a family.
With 8.13 million registered marriages in 2020, there was a 12% drop in the number of weddings, which experts say would have a knock-on effect on the birth rate because it is uncommon for people to have children out of wedlock.
For the past two years, China has had the biggest increase in Covid-19 instances. Localized lockdown restrictions have been imposed in cities around the country, including Shanghai. The government’s pursuit of zero-Covid, according to Yi Fuxian, a senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, may exacerbate low fertility and marriage rates this year. Because China’s lockdown measures are so tight, many young couples are afraid of becoming pregnant, Yi remarked.
If a case arises, your apartment building or entire neighborhood might be sealed down without warning, he warned, adding that this causes worry for pregnant women who require immediate medical attention.
According to demographers, the steep drop in births began long before the pandemic and owes much to China’s history of population control tactics. Beijing’s long-standing one-child policy, which was implemented in 1980 and limited the number of children a couple could have to less than the 2.1 required for a country’s population to stay stable, lowered birth rates.
The one-child ban was repealed in 2016, but it did not reverse the country’s demographic slide; the number of new newborns born has decreased every year since then.
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“This is a slow storm that has gained strength over the past few years,” said Wang Feng, a China scholar at the University of California, Irvine in the United States. He claimed that because of the policy’s “historical impact,” families had gotten accustomed to having only one kid.
As a result, most Chinese families have a “4-2-1” structure, in which parents without siblings support two sets of grandparents and one child, according to Yi, a longtime opponent of the one-child policy. Chinese society has evolved to accommodate the one-child framework Yi explained.
He claims that the country’s inflated housing costs and costly childhood education raise the threshold for having a bigger family, producing substantial economic incentives to have fewer children. “The cost of caring for four grandparents implies that families can’t afford to raise more than one child,” Yi noted.
Policymakers have attempted to increase the number of births.
They expanded the number of children a couple can have from two to three last year. Parents with more than one kid might take advantage of incentives such as cash rewards and extended maternity leave.
Their efforts aren’t having much of an impact.
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