China's Baby Bust

When China relaxed its rigid one-child policy last November, health officials were expecting an additional two million births to result. As of Sept. 30, they have received only 804,000 applications from eligible couples.
November 11, 2014, 8am PST | Irvin Dawid
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"The shortfall has wide implications for China—from investment by businesses to the country’s tightening labor supply and the vitality of its economy," writes Laurie Burkitt ofThe Wall Street Journal's Beijing bureau.

She adds that "the low figure highlights the demographic challenges facing China, where a rapidly aging society and an array of new health issues are threatening the country’s population growth, its future workforce and economic stability."

The lack of interest from couples surprised even demographers who have long urged the government to act fast and dismantle the birthing policy altogether, to avoid a collapse in the labor pool.

The November change in China's population policy allowed extended "the second-child policy to couples where only one spouse is an only child," as we noted then. Along with that extension, China eliminated forced "reeducation through labor camps."

"An estimated 11 million Chinese couples are eligible to have additional children under the new rules, but less than 7% have opted for a new baby," said Feng Wang, a demographer and professor at the University of California at Irvine and affiliated with Shanghai’s Fudan University.

Burkitt does not indicate whether the rules would be further relaxed to increase the fertility rate. However, she writes that "(s)ome experts say that even if the country repudiated all population controls this year, the labor force would likely still shrink."

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Published on Friday, November 7, 2014 in The Wall Street Journal
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