China’s three-child policy is not too little, too late, but a call to action
- The announcement of the policy reflects an awareness of the seriousness of the problem
- Addressing it comprehensively will require reforming the social security system, tackling soaring housing prices and improving access to basic public services
As population is a vitally important “long-term variable” in socioeconomic development, once such trends are established, they are extremely difficult to reverse. On the heels of the census came the new policy announcement on couples being allowed to have three children, as if underscoring the urgent need to take action.
China 2020 census records slowest population growth in decades
The ageing population merely confirms prevailing perceptions. Both before and after the results, the public paid close attention to whether China had reached its population peak. Although the data gave no hint that population growth had peaked, it is only a matter of time.
Workers unhappy about China’s plan to change decades-old retirement age rules
To cope with the ageing population, reform of the social security system must speed up to establish a fair and sustainable multilevel system covering the entire population. There is no short cut to that. Regrettably, many related issues have long been debated, but little has been achieved.
By 2011, China had rolled out its “selective two-child policy” for parents who are both from single-child families and it later scrapped the single-child requirement in favour of a “universal two-child policy”. But the results fell far short of what officials had expected.
It’s time to admit that the thinking on the population issue, conditioned by the planned economy, is problematic. Around the time the “universal two-child policy” was launched, some experts were adamant that China’s population policy had been “correct” all along and there was no need for adjustment. Even today, some people still insist it is impossible that China’s could record negative population growth.
The seventh population census is a wake-up call to force us to reflect on China’s population conundrum deeply and comprehensively. The three-child policy is not “too little” or “too late” to reverse the declining trend. Awareness of the problem is the first step. China must work hard and plan ahead.