BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s once-a-decade census is expected to show a further decline in the percentage of young people in its rapidly aging population, as high costs of living and aversion to having children among urban couples draw closer China to a demographic segment. crunch.
Policymakers are under pressure to propose incentives for family planning and halt the fall in the birth rate, and the world’s most populous country is at risk of irreversible population slide if effective measures are not found. .
China is expected to release the results of its latest census, conducted in late 2020, in the next few days. The proportion of older people in the population is believed to have increased, but more significant will be the data on their youth.
In 2010, the proportion of the population aged 14 and under dropped to 16.60% from 22.89% in 2000, an effect of a decades-old one-child policy. Citizens aged 60 and over accounted for 13.26%, compared to approximately 10%.
Continuation of those trends will undermine China’s working-age population and affect productivity. A shrinking pool of working adults will also test their ability to pay for and care for an aging nation.
In 2016, China removed the one-child policy in hopes of increasing the number of babies. It also set a goal of increasing its population to around 1.42 billion by 2020, up from 1.34 billion in 2010.
But the birth rate has continued to decline.
That’s partly because urban couples, despite parental pressure to have babies, value their independence and careers more than starting a family.
Yu Tao, 31, a Beijing-based product designer for a major technology company, said he was reluctant to make the sacrifice in terms of the time it would take if he and his wife had a baby.
As it is, he usually gets home from work at midnight, at the earliest.
“I like my balance right now, how I do it between my work and my personal life, and I don’t think I can maintain this good balance once I have a child,” Yu said.
Yu and his wife have a combined income of more than 700,000 yuan ($ 106,888) a year, but they said they did not feel financially secure enough to have a child, despite earning considerably more than the average household.
Annual urban per capita disposable income was 43,834 yuan in 2020 compared to 19,109 yuan in 2010, official data shows.
“We are not prepared for a child financially or mentally,” Yu said.
The rising cost of living in large cities, one of the main sources of babies due to their huge populations, has also alienated couples from children, particularly housing costs.
Among urban households, annual per capita spending on housing increased to 6,958 yuan in 2020 from 1,332 yuan in 2010, according to official data, more than five times.
“If the government simply allows people to have children without political support, it is unlikely to have much of an impact,” said social and labor expert Liu Kaiming.
“In general, the case that people are reluctant to have children, or have fewer, is irreversible.”
State media have been making increasingly dire predictions, saying that the population may start to shrink in the next few years, a bleaker forecast than that of the United Nations, which sees a population peak in 2030 and then a decline.
In 2016, China set a 2020 target for its fertility rate to be around 1.8 children per woman, up from 1.5-1.6 in 2015.
If the rate falls below 1.5, many demographers say that China is unlikely to ever get out of the so-called fertility trap.
Recent comments from the minister of civil affairs that the fertility rate had already crossed a “warning line” and the population had entered a critical period of transition went viral on social media.
($ 1 = 6.5489 Chinese yuan renminbi)
Reporting by Ryan Woo; Additional information from Liangping Gao, Lusha Zhang and the Beijing newsroom; Editing by Robert Birsel