China announces that couples will be allowed to have two children
However, many couples in China view a second child as too expensive
China predicts it will have more than 400 million people over the age of 60 in 15 years
For years, the typical on-screen Chinese family looked something like this: Glowing parents doting over one precious child.
The taglines drummed it home: “One hope.” “One joy.” “One responsibility.”
In other words, China’s one-child policy was the family’s way to support and help the state.
But, in recent times, the perfect television family has changed.
In a commercial earlier this year, a boy begrudgingly shares a toy with his younger sister, then they all gather together with a large brood to watch the televised Lunar New Year Gala. The new message was: Two is better than one.
In the typical fashion of Chinese state media, the bigger the news, the shorter the article. This one came in one sentence, just as foreign reporters were clocking off work.
And it started with a bombshell: “China will allow all couples to have two children, abandoning its decades-long one-child policy.”
The decision came after a secretive four day meeting in a Beijing hotel where senior communist party officials strategized a five year plan for the ruling party.
In a country ruled by top-down command politics, few edicts have been as controversial or as hated as the one-child policy.
Now, it’s being amended to try to save an aging and declining workforce.
For about 35 years, the Party enforced its policy on most Chinese to curb population growth, and to spur the economy.
When the propaganda didn’t work, local officials have resorted to abortions, heavy fines, and forced sterilization.
The policy was always a bit of a misnomer as millions of Chinese weren’t restricted to one child. But it was the urban and often up and coming Chinese families that had to bear the brunt of the rules.
But even as the party steadily relaxed the policy, allowing parents, who themselves were an only child, to have a second child – many parents came to the realization that another bundle of joy wasn’t realistic.
Yang Xue and Chang Zi’an told me earlier this year that though they could qualify for a second child, they had no plans for a brother or sister for Tao Zi because it was just too expensive – even for two professionals.
In fact, demographers say that the changes in policy this year have all been too little too late.
“China has already begun to feel an unfolding crisis in terms of its population change,” Wang Feng, a professor at Fudan University, told me earlier this year, “History will look back to see the one-child policy as one of the most glaring policy mistakes that China has made in its modern history,” he said.
Chinese government officials still maintain that it was necessary to keep population numbers down, to allow China’s breakneck growth without an added burden of a population strain. But now China faces a rapidly graying population.
The government says the country could become home to the highest elderly population on the planet in just 15 years, with more than 400 million people over the age of 60.
Researchers say healthcare and social services will all be burdened by the graying population, and the world’s second largest economy will struggle to maintain its growth, because there simply would not be enough workers to push the economy forward.
The Party will be hoping this latest decision will spark a baby boom. And the stakes couldn’t be higher.