One of the enduring artifacts of the coronavirus pandemic is a decline in birth rates. In the U.S., for example, there were 300,000 "missing" births in 2020. In China, though, the pandemic hit when the country was already having limited success convincing couples, most of whom grew up as only children themselves, to have more than one child. China "faces a shrinking labor force, a skewed sex ratio and one of the world’s fastest-aging populations. Data released by the Ministry of Public Security in February showed a 15 percent drop in registered new births in 2020. ... Bleak demographic predictions have fanned fears that the country will grow old before it grows rich, as decades of restricting family size compound the effects of urbanization and growing wealth in curbing birthrates. China’s population could begin shrinking as early as 2027, according to an estimate from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and citizens over the age of 65 will account for 20 percent of the population by 2025. ... Urban couples especially, daunted by the cost and pressure of raising a child in China’s hypercompetitive cities, are increasingly forgoing parenthood. ... Others fear that officials will reorient the gigantic family-planning bureaucracy, which enforced restrictions through forced abortions, sterilizations and steep fines, toward pushing women to have children. Recent proposals to inspire more births range from lowering the minimum age for marriage to 18 (from 20 for women and 22 for men) to using education to encourage women between the ages of 21 and 29 to “give birth in a timely manner.”“I am pessimistic that lifting childbirth limits will put women’s status further behind. I feel like scenes from ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ could really happen. I just don’t know when,” [former journalist Chen Hongyu] said."
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