Long-term population strategy needed
China's demographic pattern is undergoing significant changes, as indicated by the fact that the total population is still rising, but the growth rate is on the decline. At the same time, the aging population is on the rise.
In 2019, the proportion of those aged 65 or above had reached 12.6 percent of the total population and it is likely to exceed 14 percent by 2025. Despite China adopting policies allowing all couples to have two children a few years ago, the country's total fertility rate is declining after a short rise. That means the proportion and size of its working-age people will continue to fall.
On the other hand, China is still the world's most populous nation, and its huge educated work force has contributed in a big way to its economic development. The huge domestic consumer market is also the key to China maintaining its strong economic resilience. The relatively low total population dependency ratio means the country is still in a favorable "golden period" for economic development. At the same time, the country's labor force is seeing some positive changes, with people with higher education now accounting for 50.9 percent of the newly increased labor force. That will greatly lubricate the upgrading of its industrial structure, transforming its economic development model.
Accounting for changing demographic trends, China has adjusted its population policy and will make it more "inclusive" to pursue a state of social diversity and harmony among people, between people and society, and between people and nature.
Existing restrictions on giving birth are likely to be relaxed further so that the right to decide whether to have one child or more can return to the families and women themselves.
It will take a long time to establish an inclusive systematic and cultural environment for childbearing, but it is necessary for the country to speed up such a process by creating favorable public opinion, social environment and public policies.
The country's population policy should support family development in a more comprehensive way, not only at the reproductive stage, but throughout the cycle of marriage, nurturing and education. It is encouraging that China is putting in place a system supporting marriage and childbearing holidays, maternity allowances, protection of labor rights and interests, child care and children's education.
Given that population change is a long-term process, China's population policy should pay more attention to the formulation and implementation of its long-term population strategy and the focus should shift to improving the population structure and quality to promote long-term balanced population development.
－YANG GE, POPULATION RESEARCHER WITH THE CHINESE ACADEMY OF SOCIAL SCIENCES