A growing number of voices in China, including lawmakers, academics and officials, have urged the government to lift birth restrictions. The party must take more aggressive action if it is to reverse a precipitous drop in birth rates. A once-a-decade population census released on Tuesday showed that the number of births last year fell to the lowest since the Mao era. Low fertility translates into fewer workers and lower demand, which could dampen the growth of the world’s second-largest economy.
But the party is reluctant to relinquish control and has resisted the abolition of birth restrictions. Instead, Beijing has taken a piecemeal approach, slowly dismantling the once-powerful family planning bureaucracy and removing exemptions. In many places, police officers, employers and city officials decide how tightly or loosely to enforce rules.
It may mean more freedom for some, like Ms. Fan, to have more children. But it also creates uncertainty about the risks, adding to a reluctance to have more children.
The strategy could also falter amid major cultural changes. Concern over the rising costs of education, housing and health care is now deeply entrenched in society. Many Chinese simply prefer smaller families, and government efforts to raise the birth rate, including the introduction of a two-child policy in 2016, have largely failed.
“If the restrictions on family planning are not lifted and they encourage births at the same time, it is contradictory,” said Huang Wenzheng, a demographics expert at the Center for China and Globalization, a research center. based in Beijing. He said removing all birth limits would send an important message. “I think such a step must be taken.”