The news that China’s population of 1.41 billion people has fallen for the first time in six decades is quite troubling for our giant neighbor.
The number of deaths in 2022 exceeding that of births by 850,000 is seen by experts on demographics as the start of a long-term decline, with a rapidly ageing population presenting more economic challenges to the world’s second largest economy severely hit by the pandemic which has accelerated the death rate.
Other experts “see China’s population shrinking by 109 million by 2050, more than triple the decline of their previous forecast in 2019,” raising fears of a slower economy as revenues decrease and government debt increases due to rising welfare and health costs.
As a staunch pro-life advocate, along with former Senator Francisco Tatad in the Philippine Senate during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I knew that China was making a huge mistake with its one-child policy which, for more than 35 years, restricted couples to having just a single offspring, through the reported use of draconian measures like heavy fines, eviction, and even forced abortions.
As a result of such policy, China’s fertility rate has fallen below replacement level over the years to an all-time low of 1.28 children per couple in 2020, a far cry from the ideal level in most countries which is “usually around 2.1 – one for each woman, one for her partner, and an extra 0.1 to counteract those that die as infants.”
A huge gender imbalance also resulted from the one-child policy as well as the usual preference for boys. According to latest data, there are now 690 million women in China, compared to 722 million men. Such imbalance has also led to the falling birth rate.
Alarmed by the decreasing birth rate, China abandoned the one-child policy in 2015, allowing two children per couple, and raising it to three in 2021. To encourage couples to have more children, government granted tax deductions, housing subsidies, longer maternity leave, and other incentives.
But the incentives did little to arrest the decline as couples were disheartened by skyrocketing education costs and living expenses. Many couples are still discouraged by “stagnating wages, fewer job opportunities, and grueling work hours that make it both difficult and expensive to raise one child, let alone three.”
“These issues are exacerbated by entrenched gender roles that often place the bulk of housework and child care on women – who, more educated and financially independent than ever, are increasingly unwilling to bear this unequal burden,” one analyst said.
Thus, given the circumstances, it seems unlikely that China would be able to reverse, or arrest at least, the inevitable decline that has been predicted for years.
While it is not unusual for the population to decline in modern countries where women are educated and prefer smaller families, what happened to China was different.
Mei Fong, author of “One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment,” explained: What’s unusual about China is that this transition has occurred at a much-accelerated speed. What takes most developed nations maybe 50 years to arrive at this point, China has arrived in one generation. And that’s because of the one child policy.
China currently has a median age of 38.4, according to www.worldeconomics.com. Compared to the Philippines with a median age of 25.7, our country with a very young workforce is ideal, along with our birth rate at around 1.9 to 2.0.
While ours is among the most populated countries in the world, decreasing birth rate to reduce poverty is not ideal. The proper solution would be to find ways to create more jobs to maximize the potential of our young labor force.
And developing more areas in the countryside would be the ultimate solution to the perennial problems brought about by a large population as communities would be equitably distributed across the entire archipelago.
With proper planning and political will to develop communities and create more jobs and livelihood opportunities, instead of aggressive population control measures, widespread poverty would eventually be solved.
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