Chinese demographers say tepid population growth wouldn't lead to fewer working hands
Despite slower population growth, China is unlikely to suffer labor shortage for at least 30 years, Chinese demographic analysts said on Wednesday.
According to National Bureau of Statistics data, 17.23 million children were born in 2017 - a fall of 630,000 over the previous year - two years after China allowed all couples to have a second child.
Li Xiru, director of the NBS' Population and Employment Department, wrote in an article on the NBS website on January 20 that the last two years have seen a rise in the number of births, while attributing the increase to the relaxed family planning policy.
The number of second-child births - 8.83 million - in 2017 accounts for 51.2 percent of the total, 11 percent more than in 2016, with the official calling 2017 the first year to completely display the effectiveness of the relaxed policy, according to the article.
However, it is the decline in first-child births in 2017 that led to fewer babies being born over the previous year, the article said.
There were 7.24 million first-child births in 2017, 2.49 million less than the year before. The sharp fall was offset by the rise in second-child births.
The main reason behind fewer first issues in 2017 is that the number of women in the most fertile age group of 20 to 29 has shrunk by nearly 6 million in China over the previous year, said Gan Li, director of the Research Institute of Economics and Management at the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics.
According to Yuan Xin, a demographer at Nankai University, the number of women aged 15 to 49 dropped by 4 million in 2017.
Gan, also the head of China Household Finance Survey, added that those born after 1990 and most likely to give birth to their first children, are less interested in doing so because of the high cost of housing and bringing up kids.
Fewer births, fewer jobs
Although China is experiencing slower population growth, the country is challenged by larger employment pressures rather than shortage of hands in the next few decades, predicted the analysts.
China will not see labor shortage over at least the next three decades as the country's working population between the ages of 15 and 59 will remain more than 700 million till the 2050s, despite peaking in 2013 at about 940 million, Yuan told the Global Times.
However, with an adequate working population, long-term employment pressure still lingers, since the country might go through its biggest aging phase in history during the period, Yuan said, adding that "capital-, technology- and finance-intensive industries will replace part of the traditionally labor intensive ones, as China's economy has shifted gear from high speed to a medium-to-high speed growth, laying more stress on quality economic development.
The current imbalance in the quality of labor will also add to the dilemma, as in the last few decades under the numbers-oriented development mode, China has not trained adequate number of middle and senior personnel, Yuan said.
Figures provided by the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) showed that 18.5 million babies were born in hospital in 2016, the highest since 2000 and 1.3 million more than in 2015. About 45 percent of them had an older sibling, the Xinhua News Agency reported on January 25.
People should stay hopeful to say that China currently has 170 million college graduates as the potential to tap talent is great, he said.
'Fertility friendly nation'
China's current fertility rate is around 1.5 to 1.6, which is on the red line, going by the Low Fertility Trap Hypothesis, and policies to stimulate fertility are urgently needed, Gan told the Global Times.
China's population is expected to dwindle by as much as 800,000 a year in the next decade, if the government does not persuade people to have more children, Xinhua said.
"Giving birth does not only cost a women money, but also energy and time, and some have even quit their promising careers to babysit," Gan noted. So it is important to bring down infant-caring cost, especially for mothers, by setting up more nurseries in China."
Yuan suggested that the government should bring back public nurseries that existed during the country's planned economy period, since the privately-managed day care centres could be exorbitantly priced, scaring away younger parents from having children.
Gan also appealed for building a "fertility-friendly" nation in general, by providing social incentives - for example, "doing away with fines for out-of-wedlock births and reducing the interest rate on home loans for families with relatively more children."