China allows couples to have three children

A child waves the Chinese flag during the Olympic Games in Beijing. 10 August 2008.                     Image DPA  PA Images

China's Communist Party says it will allow married couples to have up to three children instead of two in hopes of slowing the impact of an aging population.

The slow population growth rate comes alongside a sharp drop in the number of working-age people, once again raising fears of a looming crisis.

"To further optimize the birth policy, (China) will implement a one-married-couple-can-have-three-children policy", Xinhua said in a report on the meeting.

China on Monday relaxed its two-child policy to allow couples to have three children, a shift aimed at tackling an ageing society.

The announcement was met with widespread ridicule on Chinese social media platform Weibo, tapping into a deep unease with long working hours, skyrocketing house prices and the rising burden to provide for ageing relatives that frames modern life.

But in late April, the Financial Times newspaper said the population actually fell in 2020 from a year earlier, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. "Kids don't know what their parents look like". The shrill alarm for China's policymakers is that the world's second-biggest economy may already be in irreversible population decline without having first accumulated the household wealth of G7 nations. The country now has over 1.4 billion people. Census data released May 11 suggest that is happening faster than expected, straining underfunded pension and health systems and cutting the number of future workers available to support a growing retiree group.

The share of working-age people 15 to 59 in the population fell to 63.3 per cent previous year from 70.1 per cent a decade earlier, according to the census data.

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Citizens aged 65 and older accounted for 13.5 per cent of the population in 2020, the data showed, far higher than the 8.87 per cent registered for 2010.

The 2020 number in the nationwide census was actually slightly higher than the 1.4005 billion in 2019 estimated in a smaller official survey published in February past year.

It gave no details on when or how the change would be carried out.

The potential change is politically fraught.

A man and child wearing masks visits Tiananmen Gate near the portrait of Mao Zedong in Beijing on Monday, May 3, 2021.

Though China tried to encourage young couple have more than one baby, the birth rate keeps decreasing in recent years. The average number of children per Chinese mother tumbled from above six in the 1960s to below three by 1980, according to the World Bank.

Births out of marriage are also considered a violation of China's strict family planning rules and unmarried couples had to pay a fine to register their newborn.

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