Calls have increased for China to immediately adjust policies concerning birth control, its pension system and elderly care after last week’s population census confirmed the demographic threats facing the country’s growth and stability. Official moves in response to the once-in-a-decade census have already begun in some sectors, with China’s banking regulator announcing at the weekend that it would pilot private pension products from June. The gradual postponement of the retirement age has also been agreed in principle, but any immediate changes to decades- old family planning policies are yet to emerge. “We should fully open up childbirth. There’s no need to worry about excessive childbirths after control measures are abolished,” Lei Xiaoyan, a professor at Peking University’s National School of Development, said on Sunday. Not many want to have a third child or more. The cost of giving birth, upbringing and education is a major reason Lei Xiaoyan Last week, China’s census confirmed that while the overall population continued to grow to 1.412 billion in 2020, the number of births fell to a 60-year low of 12 million in 2020. The fertility rate, meaning the average number of children that would be born to a woman over her lifetime, was also only 1.3 – well below the replacement level of 2.1 needed to ensure a stable population. “As a matter of fact, not many want to have a third child or more. The cost of giving birth, upbringing and education is a major reason,” Lei added. China’s working aged population of those aged between 16 and 59 also fell by 40 million in the past 10 years to 880 million in 2020, highlighting a decline of the labour dividend, which was a key factor in China becoming the world’s factory and top exporter. Over 18 per cent of China’s population are now also aged over 60, which could lead to less investment potential as the savings of the growing number of senior citizens are used to pay for associated costs of ageing, including health care, while also increasing the burden on the state-dominated pension system. A report from Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 2019 estimated that China’s pension reserve could run out in 2035. Internationally, demographic experts like Yi Fuxian, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have long argued that the relaxation of China’s one-child policy in 2016 in favour of allowing couples to have two children had failed to prevent China’s population from contracting in the next several years. But there are no signs that the authorities will take immediate action in response to the census, with the official line in this year’s government work report and long-term development guidelines focusing on the “optimising” of childbirth policies. China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) responded to questions over the declining workforce by calling for “comprehensive” and “objective” interpretations. “The absolute amount of Chinese labour remains huge,” the NBS said last week. “As the quality of population improves, the labour dividend will gradually shift to a talent dividend.” Zhao Bo, an assistant professor of economics at Peking University, believes that Beijing is now relying on the improvement of total factor productivity, an indicator measuring the overall output of the economy compared to changes in labour and capital inputs. “Technological progress and human capital are two of the most important factors,” he said on Sunday. China has already highlighted the needs to embrace innovation-driven growth with research and development intensity, labour productivity and the education level of Chinese labour included in the 2021-2025 development plan.