China begins moves away from one-child policy

July 27, 2009

SOURCE: Irish Times

Fears of an ageing population means that Chinas biggest city and financial hub, Shanghai, is now highlighting exceptions to the One Child Policy that allow couples to have two children - although only particular kinds of people can apply.



Credit: Xiao Bao

Signs of a policy change

Couples who were both only children, which includes most of the city's newly-weds, are allowed two children. Also, couples are allowed to have two if both partners have PhDs, or are disabled, or come from a rural area, or in some cases if their first child is a girl. There are also exceptions for when a widow or widower, or a divorcee, marries someone childless.

However, not enough families are taking advantage of these rules, especially in wealthy Shanghai. Family planning authorities are going on the offensive to encourage more procreation.

The localised move to reverse the One Child Policy three decades after it was imposed counts as a minor adjustment, however. The policy remains in place in most parts of the country.

The main focus of the One Child Policy has been on the countryside, where farmers traditionally liked to have large families, especially ones with lots of sons.

Middle-class Chinese in the cities, like the middle classes all over the world, have fewer children by choice.

Concerns over ageing

In 2004, Shanghai got rid of a rule that required a gap of at least four years between the births of first and second children.

"Shanghai has about three million people aged 60 or older, 21.6 per cent of the population," said Xie Lingli, head of the city's Family Planning Commission.

"We advocate eligible couples to have two kids because it can help reduce the proportion of ageing people and alleviate a workforce shortage in the future," said Mr Xie.

Under the One Child Policy, imposed in 1979 to stem population growth already running dangerously high in the world's most populous nation, most families were limited to one child.

The spectre of an ageing population hangs heavy over Shanghai, where the proportion of working adults to retirees is high and poses a major burden in the future. By 2050, China will have more than 438 million people over 60, with more than 100 million of them 80 and above.

China will have just 1.6 working-age adults to support every person aged 60 and above, compared with 7.7 in 1975. Government forecasters expect China's population to peak at around 1.5 billion in 2032.