Expert urges attention on the firstborn, widening scope of incentive measures
Restricting eligibility for those entitled to fertility incentives — such as cash subsidies and housing coupons — to families planning to have a second or third child while disregarding the needs of couples considering their first child is not conducive to achieving "an appropriate fertility level", a senior population expert said recently.
He Dan, director of the China Population and Development Research Center, suggested that authorities remove conditions associated with the number of babies in a family or household registration place, and dedicate more effort to improving the experience of those wanting a child.
In a signed article released recently, He said that the shrinking number of people having their first child and the delay in having children are the primary reasons for the country's low fertility level.
The average fertility rate in China, meaning the number of children born to a woman over a lifetime, dropped from 1.52 in 2019 to 1.07 last year, and the first-child fertility rate fell from 0.7 to 0.5 during the same period.
"The average age of women at the birth of their first child rose from 26.4 to 27.4," she said. "The number of families who are able and willing to have their first baby has significantly decreased, which has further dragged down overall fertility levels."
She said a survey shows that the majority of first-time mothers express anxiety about pregnancy and parenthood and complain about the high pressure of raising and educating children, which results in a reduced willingness to have more babies.
"Since 2019, the second-child fertility rate has decreased from 0.7 to 0.39 and the proportion of second babies among the total number of newborns fell from 46.4 to 38.6 percent," He said. "The drop is associated with lack of capacity to handle the burdens of child rearing, as well as poor experiences with having the first child."
In July 2021, the central leadership released a landmark decision on optimizing fertility policies to promote long-term, balanced population development, which includes a policy allowing all couples to have up to three children.
"Some local governments have oversimplified the decision to a 'three-child policy' and are focusing on giving incentives to families intending to have two or three children and restricting the access of migrant families to benefits," she said.
For instance, He said a city may announce its intention to issue a onetime subsidy of 5,000 yuan ($700) to families with two children and 20,000 yuan to families with three children, while excluding one-child families and those who have just moved to the city from elsewhere.
"Such fragmented and uneven policy will hardly raise the willingness to give birth," she said.
He said that it is important to ensure that policy incentives are fair, inclusive and fertility-friendly.
"Discrepancies in the amount of incentives offered should be removed and more effort is needed to increase the sense of achievement of families with one child, and their willingness to have more babies," she said.
She also suggested creating favorable conditions for young individuals to transition from college education to starting families, finding employment and improving marriage and fertility services for college students, such as giving medical insurance and subsidies to those who plan to have babies while at school.
She also suggested including nursery care services and preschool education in basic public services and offering a wide range of benefits, such as tax cuts and discounts on buying homes and cars to relieve the financial burden of raising children.