It has been a few months since China’s announcement that it was shifting its family planning policy to a limit of 2 children per couple. Beijing University’s Guo Zhiguang claims that it will take China much longer to recover from the demographic imbalance that has resulted from over three decades of adherence to the one child policy. Guo argued in an October interview with Duowei News that the government has overestimated China’s birth rate and that by his calculations it could take another century before China can develop a balanced demographic profile. By 2050, Guo claims, China will have over 500 million people over the age of 65. Because of this, the government should be trying to raise the birth rate; even a 2-child policy is thus misguided.
Whatever the true numbers, Guo’s argument is indicative of the fact that reliable birth reporting is the major casualty of China’s strict family planning policy. As Wang Feng has argued, limiting most families to 1 child resulted in the collapse of China’s birth reporting system, since the numbers became the measure of a political campaign, and of one’s career advancement prospects.
It’s also worth noting that, overblown Western media accounts notwithstanding, China has not abandoned its family planning policy. The huge family planning bureaucracy, which employees over 500,000 nationwide, is not going away. How much the shift in policy will affect the size of this bureaucracy is unclear, but lay-offs are doubtful. And whether the change will significantly dent the enormous revenues that local governments collect – $3.18 billion in 2012 alone- in excess birth fines is also hard to say. As the lawyer Wu Youshui has been arguing, family planning in China is not just a state policy but a lucrative business.
It seems that growth is slowing down for China in general. No longer can it count on double-digit economic growth to stave-off the problems of unemployment and overproduction. And apparently it can’t even count on higher birth rates to stave-off the effects of a rapidly aging population. The days of cheap labor continually entering the workforce, keeping wages low and China’s factories pumping, are nearing an end. In 2012, for the first time, the size of the working-age population declined. In 2014, it declined by 3.7 million from 2013’s figure of 916 million. Meanwhile, social and economic changes in China have proven far more effective at birth-rate reductions than family planning policies ever were, with an online Sina News survey indicating that 43% of over 164,000 respondents saying they wouldn’t even be having two children. The cost of raising a child was the most commonly cited reason.
UPDATE: 12/10/15 – In a report released on CCTV yesterday, the government will provide household (hukou) registration to some 13 million unregistered citizens. As noted in the report:
China has around 13 million unregistered people, one percent of the entire population. They include orphans and “black children” (second children born illegally during the period of strict enforcement of the one-child policy), the homeless and those who have yet to apply for one or who have simply lost theirs. Those parents who violated family planning policy often refrained from getting hukou for their children in order to avoid fines.
The acknowledgement that 1% of China’s population does not have a hukou is just one indicator of the chaos in China’s birth reporting system generated by strict family planning policies.