February 14, 2023
BEIJING – Official calls for better childbearing sector, improved workplace benefits
China should redouble efforts to encourage the younger generation to marry and have children and roll out measures to encourage them to start families, to offset its falling fertility rate and shrinking family size, a senior official said on Saturday.
Wang Peian, deputy director of the China Family Planning Association, said that the downward trend in fertility and household size has become more prominent over the years.
Data shows that there were 2.62 people per family in China in 2020, a decrease of 0.48 from 2010.
The average age of women in first-time marriages rose from 22 in the 1980s to 26.3 in 2020, and the average age of first-time mothers is 27.2.
“The shift in perspective on family has resulted in delays to marriage, having children and even resistance to these rituals, which are the primary reasons for China’s declining fertility level,” he said during the third China Population and Development Forum held in Beijing.
Women of childbearing age are becoming less willing to have babies, he said. A survey shows that women planned to have 1.64 babies in 2021, down from 1.76 in 2017. For people born in the 1990s and 2000s, the ideal number of babies was only 1.54 and 1.48 respectively.
Meanwhile, the percentage of women who do not have children increased from 6.1 percent in 2015 to 10 percent in 2020.Less than 70 percent of women aged 35 and under agree that only a life with children is complete, according to Wang.
“Given the low fertility rate in China, it will be extremely difficult to raise fertility without strengthened guidance on how to view marriage and childbearing,” he said.
Wang suggested promoting marriage and having children at a proper age and encouraging couples to share the burden of raising children.
At workplaces, benefits like annual leave should be implemented fully and flexible working hours should be offered. Communities should improve housekeeping services as well as affordable elderly and nursery care services.
Wang added that a range of policies from household registration and employment rules to medical insurance and social security regulations should be geared toward “protecting marriages and families”.
“For instance, the size and structure of a household can be factored into the pricing of utilities like water, electricity and gas,” he said.
As a result of its falling fertility rate, the mainland’s population dropped for the first time in over six decades last year and the percentage of people aged and 60 and above rose to 19.8 percent, stoking concerns over the resilience of national innovation and the shortage of labor.
Li Daokui, a professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management, said that human resources are expected to keep increasing until 2024 thanks to improvements in health and education levels.
“If the country’s human resources can be deployed fully, its GDP growth can potentially reach 5.9 percent through to 2030 and be maintained at 4.9 percent from 2031 to 2040, and 4.1 percent from 2041 to 2050,” he said, citing modeling results from a study.
To tap into this potential, Li suggested accelerating policy reforms in employment, education and public health.
He said that a more flexible retirement and pension system can be devised, and more efforts should be made to enhance the training of middle-aged and elderly workers, and to boost healthcare services to target illnesses common among the elderly.