China birth rate falls to lowest level in decades

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China relaxed its one-child policy in 2016, allowing couples to have two children as concerns mount over an ageing workforce and economic stagnation. AFP

Beijing reported a plunge in birth rate to a record low last year, highlighting a looming demographic crisis in China caused by a rapidly ageing workforce, a slowing economy and the weakest population growth in decades.

China relaxed its “one-child policy” – one of the world’s strictest family planning regulations – in 2016, allowing couples to have two children. Earlier this year that was extended to three children.

But the changes have failed to result in the hoped-for baby boom, as the cost of living rises and women increasingly make their own family planning choices.

The 2021 Statistical Yearbook released in the past week indicated that there were 8.52 births per 1,000 people in China – the lowest figure since the yearbook data began in 1978.

It is a marked drop from the previous year’s 10.41, and the lowest figure since Communist China was founded in 1949, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

In addition, the yearbook showed the number of marriages registered in 2020 reached a 17-year low, with only 8.14 million couples tying the knot last year.

The number of divorces fell for the first time in at least 30 years, after a mandatory 30-day “cooling-off period” for divorcing couples was implemented at the beginning of 2020.

The results of a once-in-a-decade census announced in May showed that China’s population grew at its slowest rate since the 1960s.

Amid official efforts to boost birth rates, Beijing in September called for a reduction in terminations that are not “medically necessary”.