The three-child policy: too little, too late

State media announced today that China’s family planning policy will be relaxed to allow all families to have three children, up from the current limit of two. This comes shortly after China’s once-a-decade census showed that its population is aging even faster than previously expected. The policy shift will do little to alter the downward trend in births, however. It is largely economic and social trends, rather than family planning policy, that are behind the decline in China’s fertility rate in recent decades, much of which predates the one-child policy. With small family sizes now well ingrained into the fabric of Chinese society, there is little that policymakers can do to turn back the clock. The relaxation and eventual abolishment of the one-child policy around the middle of the last decade only nudged up the fertility rate marginally, with the impact on aggregate births quickly overwhelmed by a sharp decline in the number of women of childbearing age. Raising the cap from two children to three will move the needle even less.
Julian Evans-Pritchard Senior China Economist
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