China will allow couples to have three children after a census showed its population is rapidly ageing, state media said Monday, further unwinding four decades of strict family planning controls in the world’s most populous nation which have strangled the birthrate.
In 2016 China relaxed its controversial “one-child policy” — one of the world’s strictest family planning regulations — to a “two-child policy” due to widespread concerns over an ageing workforce and economic stagnation.
Despite government efforts to encourage couples to have children, China’s annual births have continued to plummet to a record low of 12 million in 2020, the National Bureau of Statistics said last month, as the cost of living rises and women increasingly make their own family planning choices.
The slump threatens a demographic crisis which has alarmed the ruling Communist Party headed by President Xi Jinping, booking in a shortage of young workers to drive an economy experts say will by 2050 will have to support hundreds of millions of elderly.
A Monday meeting of the elite Politburo leadership committee hosted by Xi announced a further loosening of the state’s control over the size of families.
“To actively respond to the ageing population … a couple can have three children,” state media Xinhua reported.
The Politburo meeting also promised “accompanying support measures” that are also “conducive to the country’s population structure”, though these were left unspecified.