China Needs to Ease One-Child Policy, State Researchers Say

China Needs to Ease One-Child Policy, State Researchers Say
Children play at a village school near Xi'an, China. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg News

Chinese government researchers called on the nation to ease its one-child policy as soon as possible to cope with an aging population and labor shortage.

One option is allowing all people to have a second child, three researchers including Yu Dong from the State Council’s Development Research Center wrote in an article in yesterday’s China Economic Times, a newspaper affiliated with the center. “The longer time we take to adjust the policy, the more vulnerable we become,” the piece said.

The commentary adds to debate on the policy, adopted in the late 1970s, during the deepest economic slowdown since the global financial crisis and ahead of a once-in-a-decade power handover. Last month, the alleged forced abortion of a seven-month-old fetus sparked a public outcry and resulted in the suspension of three officials in a western city.

“It is suggested that the birth control policy be adjusted as soon as possible” against the backdrop of a vanishing demographic dividend, accelerating aging and a potential future labor shortage that are set to become major challenges, the researchers wrote. The recommendation came in a paragraph within a broader piece about social policies.

Working-age people accounted for 74.4 percent of the population in 2011, down from 74.5 percent in the previous year, the first decline since 2002, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. People age 60 and older were 13.3 percent of the population in 2010, 2.9 percentage points higher than in 2000, according to the latest census results released last year.

Fertility Rate

China’s fertility rate has already been below the replacement level of 2.1, the researchers wrote. The situation will worsen as the nation pushes ahead with urbanization and industrialization and the education level rises, they said.

Increasing the fertility rate to 2.3 children per woman, from about 1.6, would cut the decline in the workforce in half by 2050 to 8.8 percent, from 17.3 percent, according to the United Nations.

The country allows exceptions to the one-child policy including permitting rural families to have a second child if the first is a girl. Couples in some regions are allowed a second child if both parents are single children. Minority ethnic groups are excluded from the restriction. Those who can afford to can have a second or third baby by paying a fine.

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