China’s government has announced it will allow married couples to have up to three children because of the dramatic decline in births.
The decision by the Communist Party to ease the two-child limit comes after recent data showed China’s fertility rate stands at 1.3 – below the level needed to maintain a stable population.
But the policy change may not be enough to encourage more births and avert a population crisis in the world’s most populous country.
Commerzbank senior economist Hao Zhou said the high cost of raising children in Chinese cities is a challenge that has prevented many couples from having more kids.
“If relaxing the birth policy was effective, the current two-child policy should have proven to be effective too,” he told Reuters.
“But who wants to have three kids? Young people could have two kids at most. The fundamental issue is living costs are too high and life pressures are too huge.”
The policy change will come with “supportive measures, which will be conducive to improving our country’s population structure”, the official Xinhua news agency said following a meeting chaired by President Xi Jinping.
Among those measures, China will lower educational costs for families, step up tax and housing support, guarantee the legal interests of working women and clamp down on “sky-high” dowries, it said, without giving specifics.
It would also look to educate young people “on marriage and love”.
Beijing scrapped its decades-old one-child policy in 2016, replacing it with a two-child limit to try and stave off risks to its economy from a rapidly ageing population.
But that failed to result in a sustained surge in births.
In early May, a once-in-a-decade census showed that China’s population grew at its slowest rate during the last decade since the 1950s, to 1.41 billion.
This fuelled concerns that the country would grow old before it gets wealthy as well as criticism that it had waited too long to address declining births.
Zhang Xinyu, a 30-year-old mother of one from Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, said the problem was that women bore most of the responsibility for raising children.
“If men could do more to raise the child, or if families could give more consideration for women who had just had children, actually a lot of women would be able to have a second child,” she told Reuters.
“But thinking of the big picture, realistically, I don’t want to have a second child. And a third is even more impossible.”
Human rights group Amnesty International said China’s new three-child policy still violates the sexual and reproductive rights of its people.
“Governments have no business regulating how many children people have,” the group’s China team head, Joshua Rosenzweig, told the BBC.
“Rather than ‘optimising’ its birth policy, China should instead respect people’s life choices and end any invasive and punitive controls over people’s family planning decisions.”