BEIJING – A study predicts that China’s loosening of its one-child policy to allow all married couples to have two children will bring only a small increase in population growth.
The study, published Friday in the medical journal Lancet, recommends that China raise its retirement age to address an expected labor shortage.
It predicts that China’s population of 1.37 billion will peak at 1.45 billion in 2029, compared with a peak of 1.4 billion in 2023 if the “one-child” policy had continued unchanged.
China brought in the policy in 1979 with the aim of limiting a surging population and promoting economic development. It was revised over the years to allow more couples to have an additional child, until the government allowed all married couples to have two children beginning this year.
The paper’s researchers in Britain and China say the effects of the new policy on China’s shrinking work force and aging population won’t be seen for two decades.
They recommend that the government increase “the exceptionally low compulsory retirement age” of 50 or 55 for women and 60 for men, increasing pension coverage and encouraging the traditional practice of three generations living under the same roof.
While authorities credit the one-child policy with preventing 400 million extra births, many demographers argue that the fertility rate would have fallen anyway as China’s economy developed and education levels rose.
Over its 36 years of existence, the policy vastly inflated the ratio of boys to girls as female fetuses were selectively aborted in line with a preference for male offspring. China is predicted to have around 30 million more men than women by the end of the decade.
It compelled many women to have forced abortions, with reports citing cases of babies being killed shortly before their birth was due. Other mothers were forced to give up children for adoption.
The policy resulted in deep emotional scarring and probably millions of deaths of unborn infants.