KYLIE CLIFTON WRITES – It’s not easy to change the course of history.
China has been struggling to reverse its long-held one-child policy since 2015, when it announced that families could have two children. Then, in response to falling birth rates, policy was further loosened; in 2021 a Chinese state news agency announced policy changes confirming that the country would no longer restrict the number of children a family could have through policy or monetary fines. In fact, some families would choose to have up to three children, dramatically enough.
So why isn’t the size of the population bounding back?
According to figures published by China’s National Bureau of Statistics, the last decade’s annual population growth was 0.53% — 0.4% lower than the decade prior — making it the lowest since the 1960s. What’s more, according to research from the National Bureau of Statistics of China compiled by Statstia, the last decade’s highest number of births was in 2016—one year after the policy reversal, with 17.86 million. But the birth rate decreased the following six years by 8.3 million, with 9.56 million reported in 2022.
What’s the problem?
In an essay published to Human Rights Watch, authors Mei Fong and Yaqui Wang argue that the solution isn’t for more people to give birth, but for the government to apologize to Chinese women — in particular, the single women who have been reportedly neglected and shunned. Fong and Wang write, “Say sorry for blaming them for the country’s negative population growth. Say sorry for stigmatizing unmarried women in their late 20s by calling them ‘leftover women.’” Stop offering incentives to married couples while excluding single women.
According to research conducted by the NY Times in 2022, “babies born to single parents in China have long struggled to receive social benefits like medical insurance and education. Women who are single and pregnant are regularly denied access to public health care and insurance that covers maternity leave.”
Chinese officials have been granting many incentives to married couples, such as: tax and housing credits, educational benefits and even cash incentives. Additionally, the BBC reported that various provinces have begun to give money to sperm donors. Yet such incentives are offered only to single men, not women.
China’s declining birth rate is not a problem that time will fix, because the statistics have persisted downward. Yes, there was a dramatic increase in births one year after forthright policy change in 2015, but this has not produced the desired eagerness to produce more children within some sectors of the population. No doubt it will take major cultural change regarding gender roles, and major, more inclusive policies, to overhaul real change.