Other wealthy societies are experiencing a similar decline, though most experts agree that China’s situation has been complicated by the unintended legacy of the government’s “one child” policy, which from 1980 to 2015 zealously policed women’s reproductive choices.
While the goal of that policy was to slow the birthrate to promote economic growth, one effect was that there are now fewer women reaching childbearing age. The government eased the restrictions on family planning just as social and economic conditions improved for women, who began postponing marriage and motherhood. Many do not want any children at all.
“I don’t really want to spend my savings on kids,” said Wang Mingkun, 28, who lives in Beijing and teaches Korean language. “I actually don’t hate kids,” she went on. “I actually like them, but I don’t want to raise any.”
Because the “one child” rule was a pillar of Communist Party policy for decades, questions about its consequences have become politically fraught. When a prominent economist wrote last week that the way to solve China’s declining birthrate was to print trillions of bank notes, he was promptly censored online.
Ren Zeping, the economist, wrote in a research paper he posted on social media that if Beijing set aside the equivalent of $313 billion to help pay for incentives such as cash rewards, tax breaks for couples and more government child-care facilities, it would fix the problem. “China will have 50 million more babies in 10 years,” he explained in a research paper he posted on his social media account.
When his suggestion provoked a fierce debate online, his social media account on Weibo was suspended for “violation of relevant laws.”
Xi Jinping, China’s leader, has proposed similar measures in the past, though not at that scale, choosing instead to move more incrementally to avoid highlighting the failures of previous policies.