China State Researcher Predicts End to Child Birth Restrictions

(Bloomberg) -- A Chinese government researcher called for lifting limits on the number of children a family can have, in the latest sign that policy makers are considering ending decades of restrictive birth-control policies.

“We need to lift restrictions on births completely,” Zhang Juwei, director of the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Population and Labor Economics, said in an interview published Friday in China Newsweek magazine. “It has become an irresistible trend to allow people to make their own decisions on fertility, which will be the direction for the adjustment of population policy in the future.”

Bloomberg News reported in May that the country was planning to scrap birth limits as soon as this year. It would be a landmark end to a globally criticized policy -- one of history’s biggest social experiments -- that left the world’s most-populous nation with a worker shortage and an aging population comprised of 30 million fewer women than men.

Such demographic trends have weighed on President Xi Jinping’s efforts to develop China’s economy, driving up pension and health care costs and sending foreign companies looking elsewhere for labor. China’s State Council last year projected that about a quarter of its population will be 60 or older by 2030 -- up from 13 percent in 2010.

Similar remarks by Zhang three years ago presaged China’s last move to relax family planning policies. Back then, Zhang published an article in state media calling for raising the birth limit to two children from one and allowing families to “make their own reproductive decisions.” Three weeks later, the ruling Communist Party announced that it would adopt a two-child policy.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in April received an initial feasibility study that said the impact of lifting birth restrictions across the country would be “limited,” Bloomberg reported in May, citing a person familiar with discussions. Li asked for further research on the social effects of ending the policy altogether.

“There have always been concerns in the past that the Chinese population might explode after the implementation of a two-child policy, but that absolutely didn’t happen,” Zhang said in the interview.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.