26 August 2019
Financial considerations are prompting a growing number of people in China to think twice about getting married, let alone having a child. Photo: Bloomberg
Financial considerations are prompting a growing number of people in China to think twice about getting married, let alone having a child. Photo: Bloomberg

Key factors behind China’s declining birth rate

While Japan and Hong Kong are facing severely low birth rate, mainland China is not doing a lot better in this regard.

A total of 17.23 million babies were born last year in China, down 3.5 percent from the previous year, according to data from the National Statistics Bureau.

Population has always been a headache for the Communist Party. Mao Zedong encouraged more kids in early 1950s, which boosted the birth rate dramatically.

But policy mistakes like Great Leap created problems in food supply, healthcare, education and employment. Tens of millions of people died in the country in the Great Famine. The government realized that it won’t be able to feed and support an overly large population.

To stop the population from growing, authorities switched to family planning policy in 1970s and introduced stringent one-child policy since 1980s.

Several decades of one-child policy have completely changed the structure of Chinese families.

Since the one-child policy was introduced, the country’s gender imbalance has worsened. The nation now has more than 30 million more men than women among its unmarried population born after 1980s. A key reason is Chinese families’ traditional preference for boys.

Baby girls were deserted as the parents wanted to keep the quota for the chance of having a baby boy. This is said to be common in the rural sector.

Currently, most young couples in China are the only child in their families. That means they have to support four parents and their own child. Finance is thus an important concern.

The total fertility rate in Japan and Hong Kong was 1.41 and 1.19 last year, according to data from CIA. Japan and Hong Kong ranked 209th and 221st among the world’s 224 nations and regions respectively.

China’s total fertility rate is at a level of 1.6 children per woman, putting it in the No.182 rank, not a lot better.

By contract, India’s total fertility rate was at 2.43, and even developing nations like France, UK and US have higher fertility rates at 2.07, 1.88 and 1.87 respectively.

Shrinking population has prompted Chinese policymakers to relax the one-child policy and introduce second-child policy in 2016. All couples are allowed to have a second child. As a result, the nation had 8.83 million new babies involving a second child last year, up 22 percent from the year before.

Many couples rushed to have a second child as the women are already near the end of their best child-bearing age. Therefore, we might continue to see a jump in second children in the next few years.

However, the number of first child born last year dropped 26 percent to 7.24 million, leading to an overall decline.

The number is a reflection of the fact that couples without steady income hesitate to have babies.

Some may even choose not to get married unless they have some sort of financial security, let alone having a child.

The number of marriages actually fell for three consecutive years.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 23

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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