The birthrate in China fell last year despite the country easing its family planning policies and allowing all couples to have two children. There were 17.2 million births in the country last year, down from 17.9 million in 2016, the National Bureau of Statistics reported Thursday. China changed its long-standing one-child policy in 2015 in hopes of reversing the trend toward an aging population. The number of births rose nearly 8 percent in 2016, with nearly half of the babies born to couples who already had a child.
That increase appears to have been a one-off however, with couple’s decisions to not have a second child affected by the trend toward later marriage, the desire for smaller families and concerns about the high cost of raising children. Despite government hopes, studies have predicted the loosening of the one-child policy would bring only a relatively small increase in population growth. Those have been accompanied by recommendations that the country increase its retirement age to address an expected labor shortage and declining economic growth. With almost 1.4 billion people, China currently has the world’s largest population. It is expected to peak at 1.45 billion in 2029. China enacted its one-child policy in 1979, enforced with fines and in some cases state-mandated abortions. But it now faces a rapidly aging workforce and the prospect of not having enough younger workers to support its elderly.