life expectancy for Chinese at birth stood at 50 years in 1966. During the following 55 years it moved to almost 77 years in 2021. The retirement age in China is 55 years for women and 60 years for men. Only one-third of Chinese are still farmers.
Bringing these facts into correlation with the 50 years during which the Chinese government restricted the number of children a (heterosexual) couple was allowed to have, it is easy to see why China is facing even more severe problems of an aging society than most other countries.
Starting in 1970, Chinese families were allowed to have only two children. From 1980 to 2015 this was even reduced to one child per couple, with exceptions made for the rural population and minorities. When the “One-Child-Policy” finally ended, the damage was done.
From 2016, two children were allowed again, but still, the number of newborns continued to fall, with less than 12 million babies born in 2020 constituting a low number not seen since the Great Famine in 1961. As a result, the year 2021 is witnessing dramatic events in the handling of the demographic crisis by the Chinese government. From May 2021 three children per family were allowed and families actually encouraged to have more children. Coming into force two days ago, from August 1st, 2021, a strange compromise was published with the limit still at three children, but the explicit declaration that no punishment will be meted out if a family has more children and no negative effects will result in terms of employment, university access, housing, etc. Childcare expenses for children up to three years of age will become tax-deductible and the subsidies for kindergarten etc. increased.
On top of this national policy, Panzhihua in Sichuan province became the first Chinese city to announce subsidies for the second and third children of families. For three years, 500 RMB per month will be paid and maternity care in hospitals will be free. Other cities can be expected to follow.
That does however not mean that Chinese families are likely to grow again: Despite the end of the one-child policy, China’s total fertility rate declined rapidly from 1.7 per woman in 2016 to 1.3 in 2020. As an expert from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences recently said “The decline in the birth rate is basically an irreversible long-term trend.”
One reason for the refusal of parents especially in cities to have several or indeed any children are the high cost not only of living space but also of education. In an arms race to keep up with the competition, huge sums have to be spent on cramming schools and online and offline tutoring only to experience involution, a situation where work is intensified but doesn’t produce breakthroughs. The tangping (“lying flat”, 躺平) movement is a reaction to that, with young people opting out of a competition they see no way to win and becoming slackers.
To stop this development and make it easier to raise children, the government last week published new regulations to ban the huge firms which have risen teaching school curriculums from making profits, raising capital, or going public. Weekend classes are forbidden, as is the employment of foreigners as tutors
Stocks of two of the biggest Chinese education companies alone, TAL Education Group and New Oriental, lost a combined 65 billion USD since the beginning of the year.
Good news for Chinese kids, who can look forward to a bit more time for play and for some even to having a sibling to play with. Good news also for international tourism service providers, offering educational programmes to Chinese families, from football summer camps to piano and language lessons.
However, as long as the Gaokao examination results are seen as deciding on the future of a teenager, it is doubtful that the maternity wards will fill up again in China.
Dear Reader, I hope you can join us during the GITF & COTRI conference this Friday, August 6th, starting at 7:00 h GMT, 9:00 h Berlin time / 15:00 h Beijing time. Link to connect: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIod-yvrDMsGNeWKRK5ruj5SsVz0K99qT6j
COTRI Weekly will take a summer break for the month of August. The next edition will be published again on September 7th, 2021.
As always all best wishes from Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt and the whole COTRI Weekly team!