China allows families to have 3 children in major policy shift

China has relaxed its family planning policy to allow couples to have three children after a census showed its population was rapidly ageing, state media reported, in an attempt to boost the birth rate in the world’s most populous nation.

For nearly 40 years, China enforced a controversial “one-child policy” – one of the strictest family planning regulations anywhere in the world. It was first relaxed in 2016 with the “two-child policy” due to widespread concerns about an ageing workforce and economic stagnation.

Despite government efforts to encourage couples to have children, China’s annual births have continued to decline, falling to a record low of 12 million in 2020, the National Bureau of Statistics said last month.

That threatens a demographic crisis – too few people of working age to support the expected hundreds of millions of elderly citizens by 2050 – that has alarmed the ruling Communist Party, headed by President Xi Jinping.

“To actively respond to the ageing of the population … a couple can have three children,” Xinhua said, citing a Monday meeting of China’s elite Politburo leadership committee hosted by President Xi.

China’s fertility rate stands at 1.3 – below the level needed to maintain a stable population, the National Bureau of Statistics revealed.

The once-in-a-decade 2020 census results published last month also showed that China’s population grew at its slowest rate since the 1960s, reaching 1.41 billion, while the number of people of working age dropped sharply.

Leaders also agreed China needs to raise its retirement age to keep more people in the workforce and improve pension and health services for the elderly, Xinhua said.