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Adam Minter

China's Missing Babies

Allowing Chinese to have more kids was supposed to spark a baby boom. But it's not turning out that way.
Parents don't want to bring up kids amid polluted skies.
Parents don't want to bring up kids amid polluted skies.

In one of the signature reform measures of his early presidency, Xi Jinping declared last November that China's notorious "one-child" policy would become a "two-child" policy for couples where either husband or wife was an only child. While the change didn't abolish the often brutally enforced population control measure, it was a start. Chinese officials hoped the announcement would usher in a mini-baby boom, predicting as many as 2 million additional births per year to parents who had long been denied full reproductive rights.

Xi's government, of course, wasn't merely expressing its love of children. The point was to find a quick fix -- let them have more kids! -- to a looming demographic disaster: By 2050, one in four Chinese will be 65 or older, placing intense pressure on families, social services, and the economy. Yet what's fast becoming clear is that there's no easy solution to China's population problems.