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Dip in birth rate to hamper China's workforce in coming years

·2-min read
Representative Image
Representative Image

Beijing [China], March 2 (ANI): Although China's economy looks comparatively strong in the short term, the country however is losing out demographically, as there have been several indications that fewer babies were born in the country in 2020 than in any year since 1961, when it suffered mass starvation.

According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) survey of demographers and economists, a median estimate of 15 per cent drop in 2020 births from 14.65 million in 2019 was recorded. The most restrained estimated was for a 10 per cent drop.

A report from Capital Economics this month stated that it is possible that slowing productivity growth and a shrinking workforce would prevent China from overtaking the United States, adding that the US will be helped by immigration that keeps refilling its supply of workers.

China's workforce is expected to shrink by more than 0.5 per cent a year, the report said, as fewer young people would be able to replace an increasing number of retirees, which is in dire contrast to the US, where the workforce is expected to expand throughout the next 30 years.

Several cities have already reported big birth declines with Wenzhou, Hefei and Ningbo reporting an estimated fall in birth percentage of 19 per cent, 23 per cent and 12 per cent respectively, wrote Liyan Qi for the WSJ.

According to some demographers, the COVID-19 pandemic probably contributed to suppressing births, adding to problematic fundamentals including a declining number of women of childbearing age and a reluctance to have two children among many couples.

Furthermore, Credit Suisse in a report said that births at maternity hospitals in 20 Chinese cities declined by 24 per cent during the first 10 months of 2020. The findings "foreshadow rising pressure on policy makers to remove remaining family-planning controls and switch to proactively support the birthrate."

Since the abolition of the one-child policy in 2016, many expected a boom in second children. However, a baby bump in 2016 proved short lived as every year afterwards has reported a decline in births, reported WSJ.

Qi further wrote that some local governments across China have started to quietly allow families to have a third child, rather than the officially permitted two. In a February 18 statement, the National Health Commission said that it would let local authorities in China's economically depressed northeast to explore lifting birth restrictions.

However, even if the restrictions are lifted in China, demographers say it will have little effect. "Over the coming years, births will probably keep dropping," said He Yau, an independent demographer based in Guangdong.

Cai Yong, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said that low fertility in China is a real problem, which will continue in the coming years. (ANI)