Babies are swimming in a pool at Qionghai, Hainan province, July 30, 2022. (PHOTO / VCG)
After four decades in which China's population has grown from over 950 million to 1.4 billion, the country's population growth is expected to be negative soon. Having grown by 2.04 million in 2020, it grew by only 480,000 in 2021, the lowest growth in 60 years.
While the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 epidemic may have been a factor that year, women's reluctance to have children has become an increasingly evident trend. The declining population growth will undoubtedly aggravate the problem of an aging population, and negatively impact economic and social development.
In a recent report, the National Health Commission said that the total fertility rate has dropped below 1.3 in recent years, and the country is expected to enter a stage of severe aging around 2035, with more than 30 percent of the population older than 60.
The government will need to direct more resources to the provision of health, medical and eldercare services to meet the demands of the increasingly elderly population.
A survey by the NHC in 2021 found that the heavy economic burden of raising a child, the lack of helping hands to take care of babies and the negative impact having a baby will have on their careers mean increasingly fewer women of childbearing age desire to have children.
The commission has called for improved public childcare services to encourage more women to have children. But there is a lot that governments at all levels can do so that women of childbearing age are willing to have children.
If the needs of women who have children are given enough consideration when framing policies related to housing, education, health, employment and social security it might encourage more women to consider starting a family or having another child.
The State Council, China's Cabinet, released the Decision to Optimize Policies for Balanced Development of the Population last year.
To implement the decision, various local governments have made policies according to their actual conditions to give subsidies to women who give birth, provide them with longer maternity leave or other parental benefits or introduced job protection measures for mothers.
Some of these measures will likely encourage more women to have a baby. But some of the policies are just perfunctory and do not really make things easier for mothers or prospective mothers due to poor implementation.
No matter how well-thought-out and well-intentioned such policies are, they also need to be firmly implemented.
And it is important for local authorities to bear in mind that whether they can do a good job in this regard will have a bearing on the stable development of the country's population.