by Garreth Byrne
Communist China has held seven Census exercises since the early 1950s. In mid-May this year the cn.news online website published some of the statistical findings. There are implications for the ratio of children to other age cohorts in a population of about 1.45 billion people.
The population growth rate has slowed down. The average annual growth rate in the past ten years was 0.53%, a decrease of 0.04 percentage points from the previous decade. In some provinces, the proportion of children under the age of 14 is as low as about 10%.
The journalist for cn.news remarks:
“Behind this is the decline of many young people’s willingness to marry and even have children in recent years.”
The report goes on to state that economic development and urbanisation ‘inevitably’ slow down the birth rate. It compares this with what has happened in capitalist countries of Europe, North America and other continents.
Regarding the slowdown in population growth, Ning Jizhe, director of the National Bureau of Statistics, clearly stated, “This is the objective result of the development of industrialization and urbanization to a certain stage, and it is also a problem faced by countries around the world, especially developed countries.”
In 2015, after much internal discussion away from media attention, China changed its One Child policy to a Two Child policy in urban areas. This radically altered parental attitudes, but now demographical analysts see a need to encourage fertility in marriage so that schools, technical institutes and universities are not adversely affected in the near future.
The reporter goes on: “The high cost of raising children is an important reason why families do not want to have more children. Therefore, to improve the quality of the population, the state still needs to share the family’s cost of raising children and break the barriers of the existing system. There have been many discussions about measures to encourage childcare such as extending marriage and parental leave and providing public provision for childcare.”
Many other points are made and it highlights a conundrum. A sharp decline in parental fertility and the birth rate in developed urbanised societies will have consequences for marital stability, child rearing, educational and social development.
* Garreth Byrne spent ten years working in different cities of China with Aitece. In the years 2004-5 he worked for a private TEFL company in Suzhou, a scenic canal city one hour by train west of Shanghai. He took taxis on different days to primary and secondary schools to give special oral English lessons. Here are a few photos he took of children he encountered.
The first shows a choral singing practice in a school playground. Another shows children in a class where he taught. The third shows Garreth, in winter clothing, with teenaged children in a middle school.