China’s ruling Communist Party says it will now allow married couples to have up to three children. The change comes after a recent Census showed that population growth there has slowed to a crawl. China has 1.4 billion residents — more than any other country in the world. But last year, only 12 million babies were born, which was the lowest birth rate since 1961.
Wang Feng, professor of sociology at UC Irvine, says China’s new three-child policy won’t be enough to save the country from a demographic crisis.
When the one-child policy was first implemented, Feng says China was focused on increasing the standard of living with the same amount of economic output.
“That was deemed as a sacrifice for a generation. So in a way, it was a mortgage placed on the Chinese families for China's economic growth. Now the time has come to pay [it] back.”
Feng says adults now face the pressure to have enough children to support the country’s needs, while weighing what it means to have a family to support. The fertility rate in the country has gone down in the last decade.
“There was some increase, not a boom, and birth has been going down. … We're looking at the only-children generation. They're not only thinking about the number of children they want to have, but also they have their elderly parents in mind. … The only children are thinking about: Can I support four parents above, and then have two children or three below? So that is a real concern.”
He adds that young people in China still think they can live the way their parents did and experience rapid income growth. “They don't want to waste time to have children and to spend on private lives. But unfortunately, that's not the case anymore. And it's going to be increasingly harsh for Chinese young people to realize they won't be able to have the kind of income increase as their parents' generation.”
Feng predicts that in the next five years, China will experience a total population decline, which has only happened during times of war and famine.
“That's going to change the position of China in the world in itself,” he says. “Now the government has moved beyond revolution, beyond economic growth, to providing social benefits for the population. And that's part of the political legitimacy for the government now, and that would affect how China interacts in the global society.”