China’s new three-child policy won’t fix its economy – but it could change lives | Stuart Gietel-Basten

The government hopes the shift will tackle a rapidly ageing population. It won’t, but it will give people more choice

A number of unsurprising things have recently happened in the country with the most famous population policies in the world. Firstly, the Chinese census in May showed that the country was ageing rapidly, its overall population growth was at its most sluggish in generations, and that its fertility rate had plunged to 1.3 children per woman – a level even lower than Japan, a country already in a state of population decline and very rapid ageing.

Of course, we have known this for many years. A more notable development was the media’s reaction to the census data. China’s apparent demographic travails were narrated as an existential threat to the country’s economic and geopolitical future. This led to panicked claims by commentators inside and outside China that it was experiencing a “demographic crisis”. Then came the suggestion from a high-profile former McKinsey consultant that the solution was to “go all out on pro-birth policies” by taking a “carrot and stick” approach, which included limiting access to better education to couples bearing two children – coercive ideas that arguably show a lack of regard for human dignity.

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