This new permissiveness on procreation does not come out of the kindness of Beijing’s heart. They’re trying to reverse a demographic and economic catastrophe:
China will allow couples to have up to three children amid worries that the number of working-age people in the world’s most populous country is falling too fast, state media reported on Monday.
Xinhua news agency reported that the change was approved during a Communist Party Politburo meeting chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The news follows census data that showed China’s working-age population shrank over the past decade while the number of people older than 65 rose, adding to strain on the economy and society. The growth is its slowest in decades, and could pose a major threat to China’s ambitious economic goals, experts have warned.
This reminds everyone that actions have consequences, and the more brutal the actions, the worse the distortion will be. Four decades ago, the Chinese Communist Party decided that population growth was their biggest threat, and it imposed a one-child policy that lasted for decades. Enforcement included penalties such as forced sterilization, forced abortions, detention, job losses, and so on. And the policy worked, kinda; births dropped dramatically.
In fact, it worked a bit too well. This intervention in procreation combined with unique cultural issues in China produced massive demographic distortions. Sons carry the expectation that they will care for aging parents, which led to gender selection bias for families with only one opportunity to have a child. Starting in the mid-1980s, the male-to-female birth ration began to spike, producing two generations in which males far outnumbered females. Not only did that create problems of its own as males ran out of mating partners, it also amplified the drop in fertility.
And that has consequences of its own, especially for a nation that wants to project economic and military power. China is aging out, even faster than other countries, thanks to this amplified effect. More and more of their economy has to go to caring for its non-productive population, and that effect will only grow for at least another generation even if the CCP can convince the dwindling number of couples to produce babies. It will take another generation to come for any kind of relief; in fact, the burden of raising and educating children will expand in parallel for a while with the burden of elder care.
China began to recognize the problem a few years ago, and in 2015 raised the limit on families to two children. That hasn’t worked, and it’s clear why — four decades of official hostility to procreation has created a lasting impact on China’s culture, not to mention the limiting effect it had on producing marriages and families at all. After all, when the government can force women into abortions and sterilization, among other brutal enforcement actions imposed by the CCP in its one-child policy, what woman can feel comfortable in choosing to have children at all?
China created this horrorshow. It won’t be anywhere near as easy to extricate itself from the consequences of it as it was to create it.
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