Please have a second baby. That’s China message for couples after decades of limiting families to just one child. Why the turnabout? China is aging. By 2040, projections show that 24 percent of the population will be 65 or older, a slightly higher rate than in the U.S. and more than twice India’s share. This threatens an economic boom that’s been built on a vast labor supply. And there may not be enough able-bodied people to take care of all those seniors. So in 2016, China changed its rules to allow as many as two children. But many couples weren’t convinced that two were better than one: Births in 2019 fell to the lowest level in almost six decades.
Policy makers are increasingly concerned that drastic action is needed to face a quickly graying society. China’s parliament struck family-planning policies from the draft of the new Civil Code, slated to be passed in March. Then an official told attendees at a United Nations conference that China wouldn’t set population limits in the future. The nation forecasts its population will peak at 1.45 billion by 2030 — possibly as soon as 2027. China’s working-age population — those aged 16 to 59 — declined by 890,000 in 2019, a trend that may be chipping into gains in productivity. The lifting of the one-child rule worked at first. The number of newborns in 2016 was 17.9 million, a jump of more than 1 million from the year before. However, births dropped each year after that, to 14.6 million in 2019, the lowest since 1961. The average number of births per woman over a lifetime, at 1.7, was still below the 2.1 needed for a steady population, excluding migration.