Author: Liyan Qi
Posted on: The Wall Street Journal, January 25th, 2017


China acknowledged it has demographic challenges, saying its population will peak in 2030 but left little hope the country would further ease birth restrictions after lifting its one-child policy a year ago.
The country’s State Council, its cabinet, unveiled a key plan detailing deep demographic changes over the next 15 years, including low birthrates and a rapidly aging population, but said it would stick to a policy of letting families have a maximum of two children.
“Problems and challenges associated with population security, and the balance between population, economy and society, are not negligible,” the State Council said in the blueprint released Wednesday.
China’s total population, which stood at around 1.37 billion in 2015, will likely peak at 1.45 billion in 2030, it said. The population will grow at a slower pace after 2020, as the number of women of childbearing age drops while death rates rise with the elderly constituting a larger share of the population, it said.
The timing of the peak mirrored projections by the United Nations, though the U.N. had estimated a peak of 1.42 billion in 2030, according to a report in 2015.
Chinese above 60 will be a quarter of the total population in 2030, compared with 16% last year, the State Council projected.
The working-age population, or those between ages 15 and 59, will drop by more than 80 million in 2030 from the level in 2015, said the National Development and Reform Commission, the country’s top economic planner, in a separate statement Wednesday. Around 36% of Chinese of working age will be between 45 and 59 years old, said the economic planner that led the efforts to draft the plan.
A year after China scrapped the one-child policy, the number of newborns exceeded 17.86 million in 2016, the highest since 2000, the National Health and Family Planning Commission said Sunday. However, the percentage of second and third children didn’t jump following the shift to let all Chinese have two children and has held steady at 45% over the past two years, the commission said.
“This is a very important long-term plan as it sets the foundation for the authorities to carry out population policies,” said Mi Hong, a professor of public affairs at Zhejiang University.
China is unlikely to further ease its two-child policy at least over the next 15 and 20 years due to constraints on the environment and services such as education and medical care, said Prof. Mi, who was on a committee to review the plan.
Many demographers have called for China to abandon birth restrictions altogether as low birthrates endanger the country’s growth outlook. China doesn’t’ have the world’s lowest birthrate but has the world’s lowest fertility rate—or the number of children a woman has over her lifetime—at 1.05, said Huang Wenzheng, a co-founder of the China-based website Population and the Future, which advocates the lifting of birth restrictions. Mr. Huang based the estimate on official birth data.
Prof. Mi of Zhejiang University said China’s actual fertility rate is higher than official data indicate, as some Chinese parents fail to report births to the authorities for fear of punishment.
The State Council in its blueprint put the country’s fertility rate at between 1.5 and 1.6 now and projected it to increase to 1.8 in 2030, still below the replacement rate of 2.1.
The cabinet pledged to boost health-care services for women and the elderly and further ease restrictions on a household-registration system, known as hukou, to stimulate population mobility.



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