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A new study suggests that the 2013 reforms aimed at relaxing China's 'one-child policy' are likely to have little effect on the country’s long-term demographic trends and the problem of China’s shrinking workforce.

It explores why China has only partially lifted its family planning restrictions, suggesting that local governments rely on the income from fines imposed on couples who violate the one-child policy, known as 'social maintenance fees'. It also argues that it is hard to dislodge the old system because of ‘policy inertia’ due to the vast family planning bureaucracy involved in implementing the one-child policy.

The findings by the University of Oxford and Xi'an Jiaotong University are published in the journal,Studies in Family Planning. The report explores what effect the reforms have had on eligible couples, who since 2013 have been allowed to have a second baby if either parent is an only child. Official estimates suggest that the reforms will lead to an 'extra million births a year'. However, the report argues that even if this forecast is accurate, the projected rise would have very little effect in addressing the challenges of China’s aging population and shrinking workforce.

The study highlights UN figures showing that China’s population aged 65 and above is set to almost triple from 9% in 2010 (or 114 million) to 24% (331 million) by 2050. By contrast, the working population aged 20-34 is projected to shrink from 25% (333 million) of the population in 2010 to 16% (228 million) by 2050. However, the study adds that even though the country has had below replacement fertility for more than 20 years, total population has still grown by around 200 million over the same period and is forecast to continue growing for another 15 years.

Read the full story on the University's website