Lawmaker proposes fertility policy tailored for rural population
Published: Mar 01, 2024 07:22 AM
Photo taken on Feb. 22, 2022 captures lovers sharing a tender moment at a Marriage Registration Office on the special Twosday in Changchun City, north China's Jilin Province. (Photo: China News Service/Zhang Yao)

Photo taken on Feb. 22, 2022 captures lovers sharing a tender moment at a Marriage Registration Office on the special "Twosday" in Changchun City, north China's Jilin Province. Photo: China News Service

A Chinese lawmaker has proposed implementing a fertility policy specifically designed for the rural population to address the growing dilemma in rural regions where there is a trend of people not getting married, mirroring the situation in urban areas.

Li Shulin, a deputy to the 14th National People's Congress (NPC), China's national legislature, and chairman of the labor union at Sichuan Tongwang Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Group Co, said there is a declining fertility rate and worsening aging population situation in Yingshan County, Southwest China's Sichuan Province, where he comes from. He has noticed a shift in the demographics of his village. Just a few years ago, the village was predominantly populated by elderly people, women, and children. However, now there are almost exclusively elderly residents left in the village.

Li found in his in-depth research that the rapid decline in the rural population is multifaceted, and one phenomenon that worries him is the increasing number of single men in rural areas. 

In a village near the county seat, there are some 25 unmarried young men and women over the age of 30, and 20 are young men. "Not being able to afford to get married is just one of the factors, but most of them just don't want to get married," Li noted. 

Li found that "most people think that the pressure after marriage is too great - buying a new house, children's education, and supporting the elderly - all of which lead to young people being afraid of marriage."

The traditional custom of bride prices for marriage has also become a heavy financial burden for families in rural China. Many young men leave their rural homes to work in cities in the hope of improving their family's financial situation, only to return and find that they have not earned enough to afford a bride.

The bride price varies in different regions, but it can be as high as 200,000 yuan in some rural areas, such as some villages in East China's Jiangxi Province. For an ordinary family, it takes them many years to save up enough money.

Yuan Xin, a Tianjin-based demographer, told the Global Times on Thursday that multiple factors have caused the increasing number of single men in rural areas.

In traditional cultural beliefs there is a preference for boys over girls, so many rural areas have experienced decades of unbalanced sex ratios at birth, leading to a gender imbalance in the marriageable age group, with a surplus of men and a deficit of women, Yuan said. 

Population migration is another factor, especially with more women going to towns to work, experiencing the outside world and not wanting to return to the countryside to marry local men. Since women are scarce overall, in some rural areas, especially in poor rural areas, women are even less willing to marry local men, preferring to marry in better-off areas, Yuan noted. 

According to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Thursday, the total population of the country is 1,409.67 million, a decrease of 2.08 million from the previous year. 

Based on the data for urban and rural populations released in 2024 and 2023, there has been a trend toward urbanization in population distribution. The urban population has been consistently increasing, while the rural population has been decreasing. As of 2023, there are 932.67 million urban residents and 477 million rural residents. In comparison, as of 2022, the numbers were 920.71 million urban residents and 491.04 million rural residents.

To solve the challenges facing rural areas, Li suggested the introduction of a special fertility policy, targeting those without fixed jobs or low incomes and offering reasonable policies for having a second child. 

Financial incentives, such as housing subsidies or education support are other possible options to encourage more births and ensure population stability in rural regions, the deputy proposed. 

In addition, he suggested that local governments could include prenatal screening and prenatal diagnosis for pregnant women in government livelihood projects, further enhancing the prevention and control of birth defects and further improving the maternity leave system.

Yuan emphasized the importance of recognizing the unique population circumstances in rural areas, noting that China's rural regions vary greatly. In many parts of the central and western regions, traditional values surrounding marriage and child-rearing remain strong. 

He said that the prevalence of single men in rural areas is influenced by a variety of factors, and addressing this issue requires a thorough and data-driven approach.