Cost of living, education and jobs key to resolving population issues
China Daily

(Photo: China Daily)

The central authorities recently stressed the need to improve the fertility support policy system, developing universal care and childcare service systems, reducing families' living and education burdens, and promoting the building of a childbearing friendly society in order to realize balanced population development.

To build a childbearing-friendly society, the country must eliminate various factors that are affecting people's childbearing willingness.

China's population peaked last year, decades earlier than expected, and it is also aging fast as predicted. The size of the population aged 60 and above in China is larger than that in the United States, Japan and the European Union combined. Whether the demographic challenge can be properly addressed will decide the sustainability of the country's development in the foreseeable future.

Although many local governments have revised their regulations to boost childbirths following the call of the central government in 2016, there has been limited success, given that the fertility rate has only increased temporarily for about two years.

For one thing, the country lacks childcare services, particularly for infants aged 3 and below, and it is usually the grandparents that take care of children in many families.

The high cost of housing, the limited quality education resources and pressures of unemployment — the rate of unemployment among young people is around 20 percent lately — are arguably the biggest factors dragging down the fertility rate in the country.

But none of them are easy to resolve, as they are all related to structural issues of the Chinese economy and society — growth model, urban-rural gap and downward pressure caused by multiple factors respectively.

It is clear that the country still has a long way to go before a childbearing-friendly institutional environment is created. As such, it is imperative that the country pays more attention to improving the quality of its labor force to enhance the productivity of its economy, thus hedging against the influences of a shrinking and aging population.

Particularly, the vocational education system needs to be reformed to better adapt to the fast-changing landscape of industries, technologies and society. Also, in the face of some developed economies resorting to decoupling, bullying and blockading tactics in the high-tech sector, more pro-innovation inputs should be diverted toward basic research in science, which is the foundation for breakthroughs in technology and industry that the nation is seeking.