The birth rate in China has fallen to the lowest in 70 years. According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, the birth rate in 2019 was at 10.48 per 1,000, the lowest since 1949. The number of babies born in 2019 fell by over 580,000 to 14.65 million. This fall in birth rate can be largely attributed to China’s one-child policy, which came into force in 1979 under then leader Deng Xiaoping.

China’s one-child policy

The policy was introduced amid concerns that China’s growing population, which at the time was approaching a billion, would impede economic progress. The policy, which was implemented more effectively in the urban areas was enforced through several means, including incentivising families financially to have one child, making contraceptives widely available and imposing sanctions against those who violated the policy.

Sometime in the early 1980s, the state also used forced abortions and sterlisations. The policy was criticised and remained controversial because it was considered to be a violation of human rights and was unfair to the poorer Chinese since the richer ones could afford to pay the economic sanctions if they violated the policy. Due to the policy, while the birth rate fell, the sex ratio became skewed towards males. This happened because of a traditional preference for male children in the country, due to which abortion of female fetuses rose and so did the number of girls who were placed in orphanages or abandoned.

In 2015, China decided to end the policy and allowed all families to have two children.

What is the significance of the birth rate for an economy such as China?

According to a Deloitte Insights report, even though China’s one-child policy is no longer in force, its effects are still being felt. The report says that China’s population has aged faster than elsewhere, which will slow down the country’s growth potential.

Essentially, this means that China won’t reap the full benefits of its economic growth and will need other ways to support it. This, however, is not the case with India and some other Asian economies such as Indonesia and the Philippines, countries that have young populations. India’s population, for instance, will start aging from the middle of this century onwards.