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David Fickling

China’s Three-Child Policy Won’t Reverse Population Decline

Falling fertility rates are very difficult to stop, which means other incentives are needed to encourage births.

She’s gonna need another hand or two.

She’s gonna need another hand or two.

Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

If China hopes to avert a fall in its population by raising the maximum number of children per mother from two to three, it’s going to have its work cut out. 

That’s because declining fertility, once started, tends to be an inexorable force that few nations have managed to arrest, let alone reverse. Of the 85 countries where fertility had fallen to less than 2.1 births per woman in 2009 — the so-called “replacement level,” below which population decline tends to set in — only Tunisia had managed to just about creep back above replacement 10 years later.