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In aging China, a call for “bold” steps to reduce the cost of having children

A Chinese health official has urged local governments to take “bold” steps to lower the cost of having and raising children to ease the burden on families and boost fertility, a state-backed publication reported on Friday.

On top of that is the prospect of a rapidly aging population slowing the economy as revenues fall and national debt rises due to skyrocketing health and welfare costs. Demographers warn that China may get old before it gets rich.

Yang Wenzhuang, director of the Department of Population Monitoring and Family Development under the National Health Commission (NHC), emphasized the importance of family support to improve fertility, the Paper publication reported.

Yang said worries about money and career advancement among women were the main factors behind people choosing not to have children, adding that precise guidelines were needed to improve fertility.

“Local governments should be encouraged to actively explore and make bold innovations to reduce the costs of childbirth, child care and education” to promote long-term balanced population development, Yang said.

China had to “firmly grasp the important window period of population development” under its 14th five-year plan that runs to 2025, to speed up “the promotion of maternity support”, he said.

Yang’s comments were published in the latest issue of the NHC-run journal, Population and Health, the paper said.

For decades, China was preoccupied with the prospect of rampant population growth and imposed a strict one-child policy from 1980 to 2015 to keep the numbers in check.

But now the population has started to shrink and India is about to become the world’s most populous country.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics reported a decline of about 850,000 people for a population of 1.41175 billion in 2022, the first decline since 1961, the last year of China’s Great Famine.

The birth rate last year was just 6.77 births per 1,000 people, down from a rate of 7.52 births in 2021 and marking the lowest birth rate ever.

Much of the demographic decline is the result of the one-child policy as well as high education costs that have discouraged many people from having more than one child or having any at all.

UN experts see China’s population declining by 109 million by 2050, more than triple the decline from their previous 2019 forecast.

Some measures are taken.

Health authorities in Sichuan province said in January they would allow unmarried people to start families and enjoy benefits reserved for married couples starting February 15.

Separately, some provinces including Shaanxi announced this week that they would give up to 5,000 yuan ($735.29) to sperm donors to strengthen sperm banks.

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