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China could be one step closer to scrapping its controversial childbirth limits

People walk past the headquarters of the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), the central bank, in Beijing, China September 28, 2018. 

Jason Lee | Reuters

BEIJING — China may be one step nearer to abandoning its controversial policy of restricting childbirth.

The central bank released a paper late Wednesday suggesting the country remove limits on how many children people can have, suggesting that China should “fully liberalize and encourage childbirth.”

As China’s population began aging, Chinese authorities began several years ago to roll back the decades-old “one-child policy” and allow people to have two children. But births continued to fall, dropping 15% in 2020 in a fourth-straight year of decline.

“In order to achieve the long-term goals in 2035, China should fully liberalize and encourage childbirth, and sweep off difficulties (women face) during pregnancy, childbirth, and kindergarten and school enrollment by all means (possible),” four central bank researchers wrote in the English-language abstract to a working paper.

The 22-page document was dated March 26 and shared publicly on Wednesday.

The paper stated the authors’ views do not represent that of the central bank. However, the call to drop restrictions on births marks the latest high-level discussion of how to address China’s aging population problems.

Competing with India and the U.S.

China’s aging population

Educational and technological advances are insufficient to counter the decline in population, and China should remove restrictions on births, the authors wrote.

“If there’s slight hesitation, (we) will miss the precious window of opportunity for birth policy to respond to the demographic transition, and repeat the mistake of developed countries.”

The paper discussed generally how China’s aging population problem is more severe than that of developed countries. In particular, the authors noted that developed countries with an aging population problem tend to be wealthier with a per capita GDP of at least $2,000, while China’s is half that at $1,000.

And once the older segment of the population begins to sell property, stocks and bonds to finance their retirement, the ratio will be close to that of a labor force that is buying those assets, which could result in increased pressure on prices, the paper said.

Chinese authorities are set to release results from a once-a-decade census later this month.

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