Other wealthy societies are experiencing a similar decline, although most experts agree that China’s situation has been complicated by the unintended legacy of the government’s “one-child” policy, which from 1980 in 2015 zealously controlled women’s reproductive choices.
While the goal of this policy was to slow the birth rate to promote economic growth, one of the effects has been that there are now fewer women reaching childbearing age. The government eased restrictions on family planning just as social and economic conditions were improving for women, who began to postpone marriage and childbearing. Many do not want children at all.
“I don’t really want to spend my savings on the kids,” said Wang Mingkun, 28, who lives in Beijing and teaches Korean. “Actually, I don’t hate kids,” she continued. “Actually, I like them, but I don’t want to breed any.”
Because the “one-child” rule has been a mainstay of Communist Party policy for decades, questions about its consequences have become politically strained. When a prominent economist wrote last week that the way to solve China’s falling birth rate was to print billions of banknotes, it was quickly censored online.
Ren Zeping, the economist, wrote in a research paper he posted on social media that if Beijing set aside the equivalent of $313 billion to help pay for incentives such as cash rewards, tax breaks for couples and more government child care, it solve the problem. “China will have 50 million more babies in 10 years,” he explained in a research paper he posted on his social media account.
When his suggestion caused fierce debate online, his Weibo social media account was suspended for “violating relevant laws”.
Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, has proposed similar measures in the past, but not on this scale, choosing instead to act in a more incremental way to avoid highlighting the failures of previous policies.