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China’s Population Bust

With the abolition of the one-child policy in 2015 having failed to prevent the country’s fertility rate from declining to Japanese levels, the Chinese government has announced that it will allow all families to have up to three children. What other measures can policymakers take to boost sluggish population growth – and should they even try?

In this Big Picture, Fudan University’s Zhang Jun argues that China’s rapidly falling fertility risks significantly undermining its future economic growth, and urges the government to raise the retirement age as well as loosen family-planning rules. And Shang-Jin Wei of Columbia University, noting the country’s continued large male-to-female imbalance at birth, calls on policymakers to go further and provide a significant financial reward to parents of baby girls.

But Northwestern University’s Nancy Qian warns that China’s new three-child policy, if not accompanied by other reforms, could make the country’s demographic challenge worse – not least by increasing the size and share of the unskilled rural population.

In contrast, Adair Turner, Chair of the Energy Transitions Commission, rebuts the conventional view that population decline must be bad, and highlights the important economic and environmental benefits of developed countries’ lower fertility rates. Likewise, Frank Götmark of the University of Gothenburg and Robin Maynard of Population Matters argue that by adding a further Sustainable Development Goal aimed at slowing the increase in population, the world could yet save the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda.

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