According to official Communist Party figures, China’s population has grown by about 72 million people over the past decade, an average annual growth rate of 0.53 percent, the lowest in six decades. In response to the population woes, some population experts say authorities must encourage childbirth, such as offering large cash incentives, but some mainland residents say monetary incentives alone are not feasible and that the entire social welfare system must be reformed.
Chinese officials announced the results of the 2020 census on the 11th, the 7th census since the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party. According to the data, the country’s population totals 1.41 billion, and the average population growth rate over the past decade has declined by 0.04 percent from the average growth rate of the previous decade. Among them, the total fertility rate of Chinese women of childbearing age will be only 1.3% in 2020.
Liang Jianzhang, founder of Ctrip and current professor and population economist at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management, suggests that China’s future fertility rate will likely be the lowest in the world and that policies need to be proposed to encourage fertility on multiple fronts. This includes spending higher GDP to raise incentives for childbirth, which is equivalent to the need to give 200,000 to 1 million yuan per child.
Liang published an interpretive article saying, “Giving 1 million yuan for having a baby may seem like too much at first, but if you discuss this with young couples, you will know that it is actually not much at all.”
Liang points out that in China’s big cities, the “direct cost of raising a child from birth to college graduation is much more than that. This figure will increase in the future as housing prices and education costs rise.
He believes that encouraging childbirth is a very complex and comprehensive social project, involving education reform or real estate policy reform, and will take time. But increasing family allowances and giving more benefits to families with children with “real money” will produce faster results.
Attractiveness to big cities may be limited
Demographer Huang Wenzheng told Radio Free Asia that the incentives may have limited appeal to China’s big cities.
Huang Wenzheng: “In places like Beijing and Shanghai, even if you give them a million dollars, they won’t (have children). Housing prices are very high, the pressure on education is very high, and the small number of children has made this parenting model very extravagant. Each child bears the hope of the whole family, and it becomes more and more vicious.”
Statistics released on April 9 by the Information Center of the Beijing Municipal Health Commission show that the number of household births in Beijing in 2020 will be only about 100,000, down 24.3 percent from 132,000 in 2019, a ten-year low.
On New Year’s Day 2021, 27 babies came into the world in Shanghai’s hospitals. This compares with 2,784 on New Year’s Day 1990, meaning that the number of newborns in Shanghai on New Year’s Day 2021 is only 1% of what it was 31 years ago.
A study from the Consumer Finance Research Center of Suning Financial Research Institute released in December 2020 said that of the 10 cities with the highest cost of raising a child in the country, the highest ranked North, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou are all above 2 million yuan, and even Changchun, ranked 10th, costs 1.125 million yuan.
Jiang Jiawen, a resident of Liaoning, told Free Asia that a million would undoubtedly appeal to some, but more people might think further ahead. “Raising a child from birth to adulthood at the age of 18, 200,000 to 300,000 is not quite enough under the current standard of living, growing up and getting married and not being able to afford a house, and then not being able to find a job when you graduate from college and having to chew on your old man. To buy a house but also to buy a car, a million can solve what problem?”
And the increasingly large medical costs also make many people on the birth of a child discouraged.
Jiang Jiawen: “Not by your moment to give a few money can be fooled some life. After the birth of medical care and not free. A child has a serious illness, a million is not enough to send to the hospital, so that the root of the problem, to solve the problem of free education, free medical care first, the problem of old age.”
Yi Fu Xian also told Voice of America, “To encourage childbirth, all the shortcomings need to be filled. But where are the shortcomings we don’t know. Improving housing and lowering housing prices?” He thinks the authorities should liberalize academic research and involve many academics. This needs a comprehensive assessment.