Birth rate in China drops in 2017 despite rise in newly born second children
 
Some Chinese experts are suggesting tax cut in encouraging Chinese couples to have children. Photo: China News Service
 
Although China has seen an increase in the birth of second children last year, thanks to the lifting of the country’s notorious one-child policy introduced in 1979, the annual number of births in 2017 still dropped for the first time since the second-child policy, leaving a question mark on the effects of the new policy in helping the government reverse the declining fertility rate.
 
The number of second children born increased by 1.62 million to 8.83 million in 2017, occupying 51% of the total number of the new born babies of last year, according to data (link in Chinese) released on Saturday by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) of the People’s Republic of China.
 
China’s policy of allowing all couples in the country to have a second child came into force in 2016, leading to an increase of 1.3 million increase in births that year compared with 2015. 
 
Analysts said that the rise in births in 2016 and the increase of the newly born second children in 2017 were caused by the fact that many couples who had been waiting to have a second child for a long time did so as soon as the policy came into effect. 
 
Some experts believe that though the number could be small, there are still some couples who are eager to have two children and are preparing to do so. 
 
The National Business Daily, a Chinese local media, quoted Ma Li, a population expert, as saying that the number of newly born second children in China could peak in 2017 and 2018, following which there would be a slow decline.
 
Despite increase in births of second children, the annual number of births was 17.23 million in 2017, down from 17.86 million the previous year, according to data released by NBS on Thursday. The fertility rate has also dropped from 12.95 percent to 12.43 percent, which could pose a challenge to China which has predicted that the country's population would rise from 1.39 to 1.45 billion by 2030.
 
The increase in births of second children in 2017 also means that the drop in the overall fertility rate is caused by the decrease in the newly born “first children.” Analysts attribute the reason to the decrease in the number of women at childbearing age.
 
According to Li Xiru, director general of the Department of Population and Employment Statistics of NBS, the number of women aged 20 to 29 and preparing to have baby reduced by 6 million in 2017 compared with the previous year. 
 
“With social and economic development, there is a tendency that the Chinese women would delay their marriage and put off giving birth to children, in addition to a lack of willingness to have children,” said Li, in response to the drop in the fertility rate in 2017.
 
Chinese media cited an official from China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission as saying that financial pressure, education cost and quality, and career development are among the main reasons behind Chinese women’s unwillingness to have children in recent years. It also said the Commission is figuring out ways to promote the launch of a series of economic and social policies to link up with the two-children policy so as to encourage couples to have children. 
 
According to a recent government survey in the capital city, nearly 60% of Beijing residents say they want to have two children, but only 10% actually do.
 
According to the survey by the Social Work Committee under the Civil Affairs Bureau, in 2001, 70.4% of Beijing residents wanted two children, but by 2016, its ratio had fallen to 58.6%
 
The Beijing Morning Post reported on Sunday that couples were worried about the financial pressure and lack of options in terms of education and health care for new babies. 
 
“It is necessary for the government to help release financial pressure of couples in raising children. For example, it could be done by either reducing taxes according to the number of children in each family, or giving direct subsidies,” population experts Liang Jianzhang and Huang Zhengmin wrote in a recent article.
 
According to a study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the number of people aged 18-44 in China could decrease by over 30 million to 518 million by 2022, and that of 18-35 by over 22 million to 344 million in the next five years.
 
According to Liang and Huang, if Chinese government does not take effective measures, the number of births in China could drop by as many as 300,000 to 800,000 per year in the near future, which would eventually have a negative effect on the country’s sustainable development. 

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