And three. On Monday, the Communist Party announced, via the news agency New China, that Chinese couples will now be able to have up to three children to cope with the aging of the population. Since 2015 and the end of the one-child policy, which entered into force in the country in 1979, families who wished were allowed to give birth to up to two children. At the time already, the increase in the number of Chinese approaching retirement age and the slowdown in the number of working people had come to justify this historic turn.
Five years after the implementation of this measure supposed to stimulate the birth rate, the annual number of births continues to fall, and the birth rate is at its lowest since the founding of Communist China in 1949. The last census carried out in 2020 and published in early May apparently alerted the Chinese authorities, who did not wait long for react and encourage them to procreate more, recognizing between the lines a bitter failure of their previous policies.
According to the statistics office of China, the local equivalent of INSEE, the fertility rate in the country is still today at 1.3 children per woman (against 1.87 in France), well below the threshold allowing the renewal of generations, established at 2.1 children per woman. What foreshadows an inexorable aging of the population.
Too expensive children
If the end of the one-child policy did not make it possible, as hoped, to explode births, it is above all for economic reasons, according to Emmanuel Véron, professor and researcher specializing in contemporary China at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (Inalco): “Having a child in China costs a lot of money, despite attempts to help the state. We see many couples living in urban areas, sometimes quite wealthy, waiting to have 35-40 years and sufficient resources to have a child. It is therefore quite rare to have a second one. “ A reality that is less common in rural areas, where the birth rate has historically remained higher.
Besides the simple cost of a child, the fact that these parents or future parents are themselves from the one-child policy does not help matters. “We are talking about a 4-2-1 family pattern : four grandparents, two parents, and a child, on whom everything rests ”, resumes Emmanuel Véron. The child, who therefore has neither brother nor sister, must support his elders alone, both structurally and financially.
In this context, it is difficult to add the weight of one or more children, and the aid put in place by the Chinese authorities to encourage procreation is not enough to cover the cost of a child. New aid was also mentioned on Monday by the Communist Party, ranging from more flexible maternity leave to lower education costs, without further details.
A third of seniors in 2050
Faced with this situation, and without short-term renewal of its population, China will inexorably see the proportion of elderly people grow in the coming years. While the over 60s were 264 million in 2020, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, cited by the South China Morning Post, estimated in 2020 that this figure would climb to 300 million within five years, before reaching 400 million in 2033. They should represent between a quarter and a third of the population by the middle of the 21st century.
Like Japan and South Korea, faced with the difficult management of the elderly, this aging will lead to a costly need for health and leisure infrastructure, and for retirement pensions, which will be difficult to compensate for, due to the lack of a sufficient active workforce. In the coming years. The Chinese regime nevertheless intends to rely on robots, applications and other new technologies, which are expected to become even more important in society in the future, to fill the shortage of workers.
Finally, the forty years of drastic birth control will also very soon cost China its place of most populous country in the world for the benefit of India. A defeat above all symbolic, but which is important for Emmanuel Véron: “It’s obviously more anecdotal, but there is a real geopolitical rivalry perceived by the Communist Party, which tries at all costs to win this battle of numbers.”