Missing kindergarten data a sign that the fallout from China’s one-child policy has only just begun
- As the number of births continues to plunge in China, it’s not hard to imagine that many kindergartens will struggle to find enough kids
- China enrolled about 10 million young people in colleges and universities last year, a number on par with the number of births in the country
China’s education ministry last week published its yearbook of statistics for the country’s school system, but omitted one small thing: the number of new entrants into kindergartens.
The education data, which is available for the years 2015 to 2020, is used by researchers and economists as a reference for changes in China’s population. The omission in the latest yearbook, therefore, will make China’s real demographics look a bit murkier to outsiders.
The number of new entrants to kindergartens is by no means accurate data in itself, as public kindergartens tend to inflate enrollments when applying for government subsidies.
The figures from 2015 to 2020, however, confirm a worrying picture of the shrinking size of the child population in what has – at least officially – been considered the world’s most populous country. It lends support to an increasingly plausible theory that China is walking into a demographic crisis that would dwarf Japan’s population problems.
As the number of births continues to plunge in China, it’s not hard to imagine that many kindergartens across the country will struggle to find enough kids. The problem would then gradually spread to primary schools, middle schools and eventually universities.
China enrolled about 10 million young people in colleges and universities last year, a number on par with the number of births in the country.
The impact on China’s schooling system is just one of the economic and social costs that the country will have to face as a result of its rapidly changing demographic structure, which is partly a man-made predicament.
From the early 1980s up to the mid-2010s, the Chinese government implemented a ruthless one-child policy. As the then spokesperson of China’s family planning commission said in 2013, the policy reduced the country’s population by 400 million.
The price of that “achievement” is now being seen.
China’s pension and elderly care system, for example, is not fully equipped to handle the wave of retired people that will come in future years.
Meanwhile, fewer young people will be a curse on China’s property market and exacerbate the country’s labour shortage. It also flies in the face of Beijing’s grand strategy of “internal circulation” to boost economic growth, as it will be hard to encourage spending with fewer young people in society.
Demographic changes in China have been dramatic thanks to strong state intervention. In retrospect, the one-child policy dramatically changed China’s family size, social fabric and people’s perceptions, but the impact of the fallout is only just starting.
The fact that the number of new kindergarten entrants was omitted in the education ministry’s yearbook is just a sign that the worst of the fallout is yet to come.