China's declining birthrate in recent years has been driven by a decreasing number of women of childbearing age, changes in young people's attitudes toward marriage and fertility, and rising child care costs, health officials said on Thursday.
They said more concrete measures will be rolled out to encourage births and relieve the child care burden in order to slow the downward trend in new births.
About 10.62 million babies were born in China last year, falling from 12 million in 2020 and the lowest number in recent years. Last year, too, the national birthrate had dropped to the lowest level since 1978, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
Yang Jinrui, deputy director of the National Health Commission's population surveillance and family development department, said the falling number of women of childbearing age, especially those in their reproductive prime, is a major factor contributing to the falling birthrate.
Yang said the number of women aged 20 to 34 had been dropping by an average of 3.4 million annually from 2016 to 2020. Last year, the number in that age group fell by 4.73 million year-on-year.
In addition, he said, delayed marriage among young adults and a lack of willingness to have babies have exacerbated the trend.
"People born in the 1990s and 2000s, who are the bulk of those who might get married or have babies nowadays, have received a longer education and face greater employment pressure," he said, adding that the phenomenon has led to more of them choosing to postpone marriage or never marry.
"Meanwhile, the overall willingness to have babies is consistently declining," Yang said. Women of childbearing age, he said, were willing to have 1.64 babies on average last year, compared with 1.73 in 2019 and 1.76 in 2017.
"The high costs of childbearing and education have also created anxiety among young people," Yang said. "When fertility-friendly policies and public services such as nursery care are not sufficient, these young people are hesitant or apprehensive to have babies."
Huang Yan, a white-collar worker in Shanghai, got married last year at the age of 29. She said she won't have babies until at least three years later.
"My family just spent a large amount of money on the down payment for my apartment in Shanghai, and we are working hard to pay off the mortgage," she said. "I want to be financially sound before having a baby."
Song Jian, deputy director of Renmin University of China's population development studies center, said the number of women in their best reproductive years will continue to drop in China by 2030.
Supportive policies urged
As a result, "whether or not the rate of decline for annual newborns can level off in the future will depend on changes in the fertility level", she said.
"It is essential for China to accelerate implementing supportive policies to boost fertility."
Yang, from the National Health Commission, said 25 provincial-level regions have finished revising local family planning regulations after China announced its third-child policy in late May.
"Many regions have extended maternity leave by 30 to 90 days and have stressed promoting development of affordable nursery care services in their new rules," he said, adding that some local governments have also decided to issue fertility allowances or housing subsidies.
Sheng Le, head of the health commission in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, said the city with 12.75 million residents recently increased its number of nursery care places to 32,000 in an effort to relieve the supply strain.
He said more support had been given to neighborhoods, workplaces and kindergartens to establish nurseries. Moreover, established nurseries can receive a payment of 10,000 yuan ($1,576) per child, in addition to a monthly payment of 300 to 800 yuan per child.