Nearly 9 million second children were born in China in 2016, estimates said almost a year after the Communist Party of China eased the decades-old one-child policy that punished couples for having a second child since the late 1970s.
The number of births went up by about 7.9%, the highest annual number since 2000.
The strictly implemented one-child policy is said to have kept China’s population down by about 400 million to 500 million, but it resulted in an ageing populace and reduced the number of people in the working age by millions.
New data on newborn children for 2016 showed a slow turnaround. “A total of 18.46 million new babies were born in Chinese hospitals last year, an increase of 11.5% from 2015,” health authorities were quoted as saying by official Xinhua news agency.
A document released by the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) said “more than 45% of the newborns were not the first child in their families”. This was also a 10% increase from 2013, when an easing of the one-child policy allowed couples to have a second child if either parent was an only child.
“It demonstrates that the universal second-child policy came in time and worked effectively,” Yang Wenzhuang of NHFPC was quoted as saying. He added the proportion was around 30% before 2013.
“Some regions, mostly large cities in eastern areas, began recording second children as comprising more than half of local newborns,” he said.
But not everyone was satisfied with the rate of new births.
Demographer Huang Wenzheng, according to Xinhua, believed the rise in newborns after China's shift to the two-child policy was not satisfactory. “People's interest in expanding their family has waned,” Huang said.
The NHFPC survey revealed the “majority of families expressed no desire to have a second child due to financial and childcare concerns”.
Lu Jiehua, a sociologist with Peking University, suggested that to increase China’s fertility rate, the government should roll out measures to ensure that people can afford to raise more children.
“The long-term effect of the universal second-child policy is very helpful to China's sustainable development,” said Yuan Xin from Nankai University in Tianjin.
By 2050, the policy is expected to add an extra 30 million working-age people and reduce the nation's ageing rate by 2%, Xinhua reported.