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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Number game

China’s new three-child policy aims to avert an unwanted demographic shift. It won’t be that easy.

By: Editorial |
Updated: June 2, 2021 7:57:19 am
In 2020, China’s fertility rate fell below the replacement rate.

On the face of it, the Chinese government’s announcement of a “three-child” rule appears to be a policy reversal. But in permitting an increase in the number of children couples can have, the one-party state continues its totalitarian diktats vis a vis reproductive rights and freedoms. The one-child policy has caused trauma to generations. And since 2016, when the government officially reversed the one-child policy to allow two children, there has been little effect on the declining fertility rates and consequent diminishing of the Middle Kingdom’s demographic dividend.

In economies and societies transitioning from poverty to higher levels of economic development, a point is reached where the productive labour force declines and the burden of an ageing population increases. In 2020, China’s fertility rate fell below the replacement rate. Unlike in the West and other parts of the world, the decline in fertility rates was not organic, emanating from greater economic development. It was, at least in part, a consequence of state policy. Today, however, the burden of taking care of the elderly, the growing expenses of raising children and demanding working hours have meant that the two- and three-child rules have received only a lukewarm response.

What the shift in China’s demographic policy since 2016 indicates is that the CPC and the state are conscious of the fact that the country may not remain the global repository for labour. This may also have consequences for India, where, in the best version of the Rising India story, a young, productive population is set to be an economic asset in the coming decades. It remains to be seen if China, which has overtaken India in terms of education, health and income, can also maintain its advantage in terms of labour. Delhi must do all it can to ensure that India’s labour force becomes more competitive in every tier of the labour market.

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