China faces strains as birth rate falls, population ages

China faces strains as birth rate falls, population ages

Beijing: Yue Yan is glad to have two daughters but sees why, even with the ruling Communist Party urging them to have more children, fewer Chinese women give birth at all.

Yue, 35, spends days looking after her 2-year-old and evenings helping her 10-year-old with homework. Yue quit a restaurant job to do that, so the family lives on her husband's salary, which many can't afford to do.

If a young couple is busy working and their parents can't help take care of the children, they will not want kids, Yue said. The pressure is just so heavy.

The ruling party is easing official limits on the number of children each couple can have, hoping to counter the rapid aging of Chinese society. But the number of births is falling. Couples are put off by costs, disruptions to jobs and the need to look after elderly parents.

On Monday, the ruling party announced it would ease birth restrictions to let all couples have three children instead of two. But its track record suggests rule changes on their own do little to change long-term trends.

Rules in force since 1980 that limited most couples to one birth were changed in 2015 to allow two. After a brief uptick the next year, however, the number who had even one child fell, while the share of the population over age 65 is rising.

China's population of 1.4 billion already was expected to peak later this decade and start to decline. Census data released May 11 suggest that is happening faster than forecast, adding to pressure to prepare for slower economic growth and do more to help the elderly.

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