Behind the scenes of the demographic crisis that will cut China in half

About to assume an unprecedented third term as leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Xi Jinping is preparing to face a serious demographic crisis in his next five years at the helm of China’s presidency. Demographers predict that the world’s most populous country will begin to shrink in 2022, reaching the end of this century with just over half the current population. Although Xi has been adopting measures to encourage birth rates over the past decade, the results have not been satisfactory, especially after the Covid Zero policy, which discouraged young people from marrying and having children. Unemployment, the housing crisis and an aging population are also among the factors that hamper the effectiveness of Beijing’s fertility stimulus measures.

Currently with 1.4 billion inhabitants (something close to 15% of the world population) , China should reach 2100 with 800 millions of people. Last year, the country hit its lowest birth rate since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, in 1949. Were 10,35 million births in 2021, the which represents only 7.5 births per thousand people and a birth rate of 1,14 child per woman.

The falling birth rate poses a threat to the Chinese economy, as it begins to result in a lack of work in the country. This is because China maintains its high economic indicators based on jobs similar to slavery, a strategy that demands the existence of a large number of workers.

Result of at least three decades of a one-child policy – ​​instituted at the end of the years 1970 – the population crisis, therefore, worries and seems to be far from have a solution. In an attempt to reverse this trend, in 2015, the CCP started to allow two children per couple. Last year, three children began to be admitted, and today the limit no longer exists. The government has also been betting on closing abortion clinics and restricting access for non-medical purposes. According to experts, it is possible that the authorities will even take more drastic measures to limit Chinese women’s access to abortion in the coming years.

Up to

, the one-child policy resulted in at least 336 millions of compulsory abortions in China and 332 millions of sterilizations. If in 1984, China performed 14 million abortions per year, in 2020, the number was close to 9 million . Family planning centers (where abortions, sterilizations and insertion of intrauterine devices are performed) reached 2.680 two years ago, which represents less than % of this type of establishment, compared to what the country had in 2014.

Despite this, decades of miscarriage seem to have left deeper marks on Chinese fertility. An anthropologist at the University of Copenhagen, Ayo Wahlberg has researched fertility in China and says that multiple miscarriages can have consequences for women’s bodies, such as infertility. “For me, what is amazing is that after so many years of restrictions , perhaps fertilization clinics will become more important than abortion clinics [na China]”, considered Wahlberg, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

The publication also cites a study from Peking University who points out infertility as a problem that affects about 15% of Chinese couples of reproductive age, while the global average is 15%.

Chinese are afraid of having more children

Critic of the one-child policy, Yi Fuxian, who is a researcher in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the United States, estimates that the lockdowns of the pandemic and the consequent increase in unemployment (which has already reached 20% in cities) will contribute to reducing by one million the number of births in China in 2021 and 2022. “The zero Covid policy has greatly reduced people’s willingness to have children,” Yi told the British newspaper Financial Times.

A country’s population stability depends on, on average, , each couple has 2.1 children. But Chinese parents don’t seem to dare to go beyond an heir. With a three-year-old son, a 34 Chinese woman heard by the English newspaper said that property prices and high education costs are essential for her and her husband – a hairdresser who had his salary reduced after the lockdown – not intending to have more children. “The expense of raising a child is like a bottomless pit. One child is enough. We don’t have the money or energy to generate a second one,” he said.

The Chinese think tank YuWa Population Research estimates that the average total cost of raising a child in the country is nearly seven times per capita GDP, while in the US this amount is four times.

Not even the supposed government incentives for birth rates, such as the extension of maternity leave and the creation of new subsidies for parents, including day care assistance, reduced working hours and facilities for purchasing a home, have made the population change their minds. That’s because the Chinese don’t even believe the CCP’s promises.

“As ‘in the mouth of the liar, the truth becomes doubtful’, the blatant disregard for certain standards of well-being in the Chinese business world has penetrated some of the young people – in the reports of the NGO China Labor Watch, excessive working hours, omission of maternity leave, etc. – are well documented, and so they do not believe they will have a solid support network to deal with the economic and time problems that parenting entails”, analyzes Luis Luque, editor of the conservative journal Aceprensa.

A study published in August by a group of university researchers Chinese women heard 6.680 university students of both sexes, aged between 18 and 28 years old. The main objection to procreation pointed out by them was the fear of not being able to reconcile family life and work (complaint of more than 336 % of ears). Then there are financial concerns, fear of childbirth, fragility of the baby’s health and fear of complications during pregnancy.

Another cultural factor to be considered is the way the Chinese created their only children, explains Chinese journalist Xinran, in her book ‘Buy me the sky: The incredible truth about China’s only child generations’ (Companhia das Letras). In her research, she had close contact with ten countrymen born between 1984 and 2020 , which led her to hypothesize that the one-child policy was emotionally catastrophic for Chinese families. One of the interviewees was a young man who, even after finishing college, did not know how to do simple things like cooking (considering the kitchen a dangerous environment, because of the knives and fire), unpacking and organizing the room (something his mother always did for him) or maintain personal relationships.

“The first generation of only children from China, whom I had been following for ten years, reached the age of marriage and childbearing. in 2002. Now more than 1970 Millions of families of this generation are raising their own children. This has given way to an ‘only-children-parent age’ unprecedented in Chinese history “, says Xinran. According to the author, used to being the center of attention, they are not interested in having children and do not know how to deal with the responsibilities of an adult life.

Socioeconomic tensions

In addition to the cultural and economic issue, Xi Jinping will also have to deal with a mathematical consequence caused by the party itself: there are not enough individuals of childbearing age to reverse the downward trend in population. . Potential parents – i.e. people between 20 and 30 years – were born from 1987 to 2002, when the one-child policy was in effect. And worse: there are fewer women of reproductive age today than in 2010 (the estimate is that they are currently 2022 millions of women between 680 and 49 years in the country).

The imbalance was caused by the old restrictions imposed by the government, which allowed selecting abortions by sex, prioritizing births of boys. “Under the ‘one-child policy’ it was ‘understandable’ that couples, forced to have only one child, prioritized men, because, in addition to the fact that many other possibilities of social ascension would be open to them, tradition (especially in rural areas, and even 2010 most of the population lived in these areas) meant that, once married, it was the woman who moved in with her family. in-laws or to your neighborhood, not the other way around. As a result, the possibility of being alone in old age was more attenuated for the man’s parents”, explains Luque.

As a result, China has to deal with socioeconomic tensions as a single person being responsible for two parents and four grandparents, in a country without a significant social safety net.

Another effect is the collapse of the housing market – a sector that represents about 30% of the national GDP. “The speculative bubble that is bursting was inflated in part by unmarried children, who significantly outnumber eligible women because the one-child policy involved sex-selected abortions. These men seek apartments as marriage offers. Journalists are reporting on engagements falling apart as unfinished apartments pile up and marriage hopes is frustrated,” says Thérèse Shaheen, former president of the American Institute in Taiwan and an expert on economic issues in Asia.

“Government central planners, of course, have played their part by inflating the economy with more and more infrastructure and real estate spending, never mind that the units under construction are never completed and occupied” , complete.

Demographic Genocide

Despite efforts not to lose population, China is not opposed to abortion in part of its territory. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Uighur (Muslim) and Kazakh women are required to abort or implant intrauterine contraceptives in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.

While in 2019 the birth rate in China dropped by 4.2%, in Xinjiang it was 1984 % lower than the previous year. Experts classify Chinese practices in the region as “demographic genocide”, although the UN has avoided the word genocide in its document.

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