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Expert urges focus on quality amid population decline

Time: 2024-02-18 AUTHOR: By Wang Xiaoyu SOURCE:

As China's total population is set to trend downward in the coming decades, a senior expert said the quality and structure of the population is now a far more important criterion than the sheer number in assessing demographics and concrete action to address fertility difficulties confronting young families will take effect in lifting birthrates.

He Dan, director of the China Population and Development Research Center, suggested eliminating anxiety over pure population data and prioritizing attention on human resources' quality as stipulated by the central leadership.

"The general trend in China is that we will see a steady decline in the number of total population, but it is important to note that the global fertility is also falling and modernized development will inevitably result in an aging society and low birthrates," she said.

Rather than publicizing negativity linked to a decreasing population, he suggested taking a comprehensive approach that incorporates quality, structure and distribution of population when evaluating population development.

Official data shows that the overall quality of China's population is improving, with longer average years of education, and increases in health conditions and productivity.

"China has already laid out key tasks in promoting high-quality development of population, such as further stepping up education, rolling out fertility supportive policies, tapping into human resources potential, tackling the rapidly aging trend proactively and striving for coordinated population and social-economic development," she said.

China's total population registered a peak at the end of 2021 at 1.413 billion. The number dropped by 850,000 by 2022 and a further two million by 2023, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics.

As predicted in a model raised by the research center in 2020, the total population would plateau at a "zero-growth" stage in which the total population would fluctuate before the country set off on a path of stable negative growth

"The release of the model was aimed at spreading awareness among policymakers and the public that China's population would reach a crest soon, was approaching a turning point and would certainly fall in the future and highlighting the significance of formulating new policies to cope with the change."

In July 2021, the central leadership released a decision that allow all couples to have three children and strengthened fertility support, prompting localities to roll out a variety of policies to encourage births, such as cash incentives for families with newborns, longer maternity and paternity leave as well as housing subsidies.

She said that these policies have yielded positive results, including improvements on prenatal and postnatal care and an increase in the number of babies born as a second or third child.

However, existing policies have not fully met demands of the public.

"The current fertility level in China stands around one child per woman of childbearing age, and nearly 40 percent fertility intentions are not realized, primarily due to practical difficulties ranging from the lack of housing and nursery care services, pressure resulting from taking care of elderly parents to high education costs and infertility condition," she said.

"But these problems can be addressed through proactive action and policy interventions," she said.

"The younger generation's perception on marriage and childbearing is moldable and it is important for us to help them foster a positive attitude toward getting married and having children, and give them support," she said.

Compared to other Asian countries grappling with population decline such as South Korea and Japan, she said that the convention of founding a family and having children over a lifetime is still widely accepted in China.

To build a sound fertility support system, she said that practical problems such as steep housing costs, anxiety over education and the burden of medical care should be tackled.

Moreover, it is vital to expand the coverage of maternity insurance, elevate the system for child care support and fertility health protection from local to national level and have legal statutes in place to ensure their implementation.

"In the short term, such efforts would help families realize their intention, and in the long run, they will play a vital role in advancing healthy development of population and even help drive our economy," she added.