China’s Record Low Birth Rate Indicates Potential Population Crisis – World Peace Organization
China’s birth rate fell to a record low in 2021, continuing a downward trend that threatens China’s economy and an aging population. The reported birth rate was 7.52 per 1,000 people with a natural growth rate of 0.034, the lowest in 60 years according to Reuters. Despite China’s efforts to spur population growth by allowing couples to have three children, extending paid maternity leave and offering cash benefits, the rising cost of living is discouraging couples from having more children (Al Jazeera). This low population growth, combined with a growing elderly population, can lead to labor shortages and overwhelm the state’s ability to provide pensions.
Yi Fuxian, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, criticized China’s one-child policy for creating the potential population crisis: “The Chinese government has obscured the actual fertility rate to conceal the disastrous ramifications of the policy. of the only child.
Ning Jizhe, head of China’s National Bureau of Statistics, described several factors preventing couples from having more children, including economic hardship due to pandemic shutdowns, changing attitudes towards childbearing and “a fewer women of childbearing age” (CNN). Huang Wenzheng, a demographics expert, pointed to the potential social impact of China’s push to increase the birth rate: “Career progress can be tied to whether or not you have children; economic incentives; or even direct cash payments by society to cover the costs of raising a family” (Reuters).
The population growth campaign particularly targets women, as China has a severe gender imbalance due to a high rate of female abortion during the one-child policy. As a result, Chinese policy has focused on encouraging marriage and childbirth by providing economic support like extended paid maternity leave and banning for-profit tutoring to ensure all students have access to the tutoring, regardless of their ability to pay (Reuters). However, China’s protections do not extend to single mothers or fathers, many of whom are ineligible for government maternity assistance, reinforcing traditional gender roles at the expense of potential population growth.
China’s population growth spurt does not extend to all regions within its borders. Despite the urgent need for population growth, China’s brutal treatment of ethnic minorities in Central Asia such as the Uighur people in Xinjiang is trying to diminish these minority populations. According to the New York Times, Uyghur women have been forcibly sterilized, tortured in detention for refusing forced contraception, and their children kidnapped and placed in cultural re-education boarding schools. These actions and policies have led human rights groups and governments, including the United States, to accuse China of committing genocide in Xinjiang.
China introduced the one-child policy in 1979 in an attempt to slow rapid population growth. Women were subjected to brutal state policies forcing them to have abortions or sterilization. It is estimated that this policy prevented the birth of 400 million children (Al Jazeera). The policy was revised in 2016 to allow two children and in 2021 to allow three children in the face of an impending demographic crisis. These policy changes have failed, as China’s fertility rate has remained at 1.7 children per woman since the institution of the one-child policy (World Bank) and in 2021 the birth rate of 7 .5 births per 1,000 people was the lowest since 1949 (Reuters). With too few workers to support a rapidly aging population (Reuters), China needs strong population growth to care for its elderly and its economy and industrial growth. However, the rising cost of education, housing, elderly care and the lack of protection for single mothers discourage couples from having three children.
The allowance for three children is unlikely to have a significant effect on the Chinese population without the introduction of economic support measures for families and single parents. As Sui-Lee Wee of the New York Times writes, “The [Chinese Communist Party]The reluctance to give up its right to dictate reproductive rights underscores the power of such [reproductive] policies as tools of social control. The emphasis on traditional heterosexual marriage combined with ongoing forced sterilization processes in Xinjiang demonstrates that China’s desire for population growth does not outweigh its desire for social control.