China will allow all couples to have a third child, a surprise move aimed at slowing the nation’s declining birthrate as risks to the economy’s long-term prospects mount because of a rapidly aging population.
In a meeting presided over by President Xi Jinping Monday, the Communist Party’s Politburo decided to ease the current two-child restriction, saying “allowing every couple to have three children and implementing related support policies will help improve the population’s structure,” according to a report by the official Xinhua News Agency.
It wasn’t clear when the move would take effect, although the meeting discussed major policy measures to be implemented in the period to 2025.
China has been gradually reforming its stringent birth policy that for decades limited most families to only having a single child, with a second child allowed since 2016. However, that reform did little to reverse the declining birthrate and further relaxation of the limits is unlikely to lead to a sustained increase.
Some government officials, including researchers at China’s central bank, have called for birth limits to be abolished entirely.
The debate was intensified after the results of China’s latest national census earlier this month showing a decline in the country’s working-age population over the last decade.
The declining birthrate means China’s population, currently at 1.41 billion, may begin to shrink before 2025, according to Bloomberg Economics estimates. There were 12 million new babies born last year amid the uncertainties of the coronavirus pandemic, the lowest number since 1961.