Baby boom in the Year of Dragon: New quality productive forces facilitate balanced population growth
Published: Mar 13, 2024 04:00 PM
Medical workers of the Gansu Maternity and Child Health Care Hospital in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, provide professional care for the newborns on February 28, 2024. Photo: VCG

Medical workers of the Gansu Maternity and Child Health Care Hospital in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, provide professional care for the newborns on February 28, 2024. Photo: VCG

Chinese people always have a special preference toward the zodiac sign of Dragon. In the previous Year of the Dragon of 2012, there was a small baby boom. It's natural that in the current Year of the Dragon, another increase in the total population can be expected.

Meanwhile, many are wondering what major trends will shape China's population policy, birth support measures, and related laws and regulations. How can long-term balanced development of the population be achieved, while also mitigating the structural impact on economic and social development?

The Global Times sought answers from Wang Pei'an, Chairman of the Academic Committee of the National Health and Population Development Strategy Research Institute affiliated with the National Health Commission and former deputy director of the National Health and Family Planning Commission. 

According to Wang, in the Year of the Dragon in 2024, a year traditionally associated with an increase in birth rate due to cultural beliefs, and with the government's ongoing efforts to improve fertility support measures, it is expected that the newborns in China will see a slight increase.

Wang said in a group interview that he noticed that many families in China started to plan to have babies in the post-epidemic time, which also coincides with the Year of the Dragon. 

He said that the increase in the number of marriage registrations may have a positive impact on future births. According to media reports, many places in China witnessed a rise in marriage registrations in 2023 for the first time in recent years.

However, despite the expected slight increase in population in the Year of the Dragon, Wang said the trend of China's fertility rate is likely to continue to fluctuate at a low level for the foreseeable future. 

Data showed that in recent years, the fertility rate in China has dropped to below 1.3. The drop in China's fertility rate is the main factor that has contributed to population size and its structural changes, Wang said. "Only by promoting fertility rate can we achieve long-term balanced development of the population and alleviate the structural impact on economic and social development."

Policy combination 

As economic and social development progresses, the younger generation's attitudes toward marriage and childbearing are rapidly changing. The concept of "having fewer children, but ensuring they are of high quality and well-raised" has become the mainstream societal view on reproduction. 

Wang suggested integrating the concept of fertility support into all economic and social policies to enhance the targeted effectiveness and implementation of fertility-supportive measures. 

This includes establishing a unified national standard of fertility supportive measures based on local explorations, and gradually reducing regional disparities in policies such as how subsidies are released and holidays given to fertility families.

According to Wang, boosting economic support, such as favorable tax and housing policies, promoting education equity, and improving the supply of high-quality educational resources, are essential. 

"These measures aim to significantly reduce the financial burden on families in terms of child-rearing and education expenses," Wang said, adding that nowadays, people tend to invest more in their children, making the cost of raising children one of the main expenditures for families. At the same time, the costs of marriage, housing and education are also gradually rising.

Furthermore, Wang said the country should work on improving the childcare service system, such as expanding the functions of community childcare services, improving basic public service facilities for infant and toddler care, and supporting employers to provide childcare services for their employees. 

Another reason why the childbearing population is reluctant to have baby is that many women find it difficult to balance between child-rearing and career development.

He suggested optimizing the maternity leave system, such as implementing flexible working hours, to help workers find a healthy balance between work and family. 

Meanwhile, as a support to childcare service, Wang proposed the implementation of a comprehensive incentive, evaluation, and supervision system to encourage the elderly to participate in intergenerational infant and toddler care. 

This could include offering childcare subsidies in the form of meal vouchers, travel discounts, free park access and other benefits, Wang told the Global Times. 

Moreover, the sexual and reproductive health status of young people is not optimistic, affecting the national fertility rate, he said, suggesting offering free contraception and pre-pregnancy health checks.

Talent dividend

While boosting the fertility rate, how can the quality of the population be further improved? Wang said new quality productive forces that the Chinese leader proposed is conducive to enhancing the overall quality of the population, compensating for the decrease in population size.

As China focuses on increasing its fertility rate, the quality of the population must also be addressed. Experts emphasized the importance of not only improving the health and education of the population but also introducing how new quality productive forces are going to shape the country's population characters.

"The formation of new quality productive forces is conducive to enhancing the overall quality of the population and can offset the impact of decrease in population size," Wang told the Global Times.  

China's "demographic dividend" is evolving into a "talent dividend," he emphasized. The demographic dividend still exists, and the talent dividend is accumulated, which can provide talent support and intellectual guarantee for high-quality development.

According to data, in 2023, China's working-age population exceeded 860 million, with an average of 11.05 years of education. The number of people with a college education surpassed 250 million. 

According to the China Population and Development Research Center's model projection, the number of working-age people with higher education is expected to reach 329 million in 2035 and 337 million in 2050, accounting for a continuously increasing percentage in the total working-age population, projected to reach 36.31 percent and 45.23 percent, respectively. 

Despite the expected decline in population growth, China's total human resources will continue to grow before 2040, and remain stable by 2050, thanks to improvements in health and education levels, providing talent and intelligence support to develop new quality productive forces, according to Wang.