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Prosperous province tackles low birthrate

By CANG WEI in Nanjing | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-03-17 07:23
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Last year, Jiangsu province recorded a negative natural growth rate for the first time since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

The birthrate stood at 5.65 births per 1,000 people and the mortality rate at 6.77 deaths per 1,000, resulting in a growth rate of-1.12, according to the Jiangsu Bureau of Statistics.

"The situation is gloomy but things might change over a longer period of time," said Yuan Xin, professor of demography at the Population and Development Research Institute at the School of Economics of Nankai University.

Despite the birthrate challenge, Jiangsu remains an economic powerhouse. With a population of more than 85 million people, gross domestic product was 11.64 trillion yuan ($1.83 trillion) in 2021, the second-highest regional GDP after Guangdong province.

He said he believes Jiangsu's strong economic performance can help address the population problem. "A downward natural population trend can be offset by inbound immigrants. Given the strong economy and better job prospects, Jiangsu can surely attract more people from other parts of the country to help turn the negative to positive in coming years."

Provinces in Northeast China with weaker economies have shown consistent downward trends in their populations over the past decade, due to an outflow of people.

However, the population problem in East China's economically strong Jiangsu has been compounded by the number of newborns declining every year since 2016.

The decreasing number of women of childbearing age, postponement of getting married and women studying for a longer time, have all contributed to the decrease in the number of newborns, the Jiangsu Bureau of Statistics said.

The number of women aged 20 to 39 decreased by 312,500 from 2000 to 2010, and by 1.47 million over the next decade. In 2021 alone, it fell by more than 110,000.

According to the National Health Commission, the number of women aged 20 to 34 in China decreased by 3.4 million annually during the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-20). The number dropped by 4.73 million in 2021.

Nearly 70 percent of women in Jiangsu who received a college education had just one child. They also accounted for more than half of the women in the province who chose not to have children, the Bureau of Statistics said.

By contrast, 59.21 percent of female junior high graduates and 63.42 percent of women with an elementary school education had two or more children.

Yuan said that the younger generation no longer considered having children a requirement of family life.

"Their concept of having a family has changed drastically," said Yuan. "The country must face the fact that the birthrate has moved downward and we must get prepared for change.

"The problem is not only related to economics, but also related to many other aspects, including social security, gender equality and childcare. The policymakers of different regions in the country should be aware of the needs of women of childbearing age to put forward effective measures."

According to a newly released Jiangsu government regulation, maternity leave for working mothers has been extended from 98 to 158 days. An additional 15 days of paternity leave has been granted to working fathers during their wife's maternity leave.

Each parent can have 10 days of parental leave every year until their child reaches age 3, the regulation says.

To encourage couples to have more children, more than 10 provinces and municipalities in China have extended maternity, paternity and parental leave, such as Beijing and Shanghai as well as Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces.


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