Easing China's one-child policy won't stop its demographic decline

Even if China were to experience a baby “boomlet,” the country would continue to age, its labor force shrink and its gender imbalance persist for generations. Also, while a rise in the birthrate would increase the demands for housing, education, food, care and related services, at least two decades would pass before the boomlet babies entered the workforce and paid taxes. Moreover, the favorable demographic dividend of many workers and few elderly that benefited China’s economy since 1980 is coming to an end. Soon the numbers of working-age Chinese per retiree will fall to levels of more developed countries. Although China had hoped otherwise, increasingly it appears the population will become old before it is rich.

Finally, irrespective of China’s decisions to relax its one-child policy, fertility is not likely to increase markedly in the foreseeable future. Major forces pointing to continuation of low Chinese fertility include increasing urbanization, smaller and costly housing, expanding higher education and career opportunities for women, high financial costs and time pressures for childrearing, and changing attitudes and lifestyles. China may soon discover, as many countries have concluded, raising low fertility rates is more challenging than reducing high fertility.