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November 17, 2022

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Chinese views on having more children changing as world population hits 8b

In ancient China, having a large family was considered a sign of good fortune and prosperity.

During the period of strict family planning policy, a large family was often associated with poverty and illiteracy.

In rural China, it was often blamed on a single-minded desire to continue the family line.

So, seeing a photo of a couple with seven children shared by the chancellor of NYU Shanghai, Tong Shijun, gives a jolt and evokes a range of emotions among people my age. It’s almost like a scene from the film The Sound of Music.

But this was the family picture of David Hunsaker, assistant professor of management and organizations. Tong said the Hunsakers had five children when they joined NYU Shanghai in 2018. In the following years, the couple welcomed two additional children, and they are expecting their eighth next year.

“We could easily attract talent of such (high) calibre, those who could have found employment at any (top) school in the world, and this should be attributed not only to the environment for conducting scientific research in Pudong, but also to all kinds of amenities in daily life across the Huangpu River, which affords them a stage to live their lives in all their vigor and many colors,” Tong said on November 7 at a seminar on the flow of global talent, as part of the Fifth Hongqiao International Economic Forum.

In hammering home his message, Tong alluded to the Confucian tenet jinzhe yue yuanzhe lai, which translates as “(Good government obtains) when those who are near are happy and those who are far off are attracted.”

In a nation that is rapidly aging, attracting foreign talent is as important as fixing the inherent demographic imbalances.

In a dramatic reversal of the decades-long, stringent family planning regulations, many regions in China are now introducing incentives to encourage couples to have more children.

For instance, one recent policy on family planning incentives and subsidies stipulates that both parents are entitled to five days of child care leave every year until the child turns 3.

This approach might help address some of the ills associated with an aging society, but its impact on the long-term trend is likely to be limited.

According to the United Nations, the global population hit 8 billion on Tuesday, and will rise to 10.4 billion by 2080.

China remains the world’s most populous country, though India may surpass in 2023, with its population reaching 1.7 billion by 2050.

Hence the challenge for China to maintain its advantage in human resources in the face of diminishing demographic dividends. China’s meteoric ascent as a global industrial hub has been closely connected to its labor force availability in the 1980s and 1990s.

According to a survey by the Center for China and Globalization, while China ranks first in the world in terms of human resources, it ranks eighth in terms of overall competitiveness, which is marginally inadequate in light of China’s total economic capacity.

In other words, we have nurtured a pretty large labor force, but the education level of this labor force leaves much to be desired.

To address the deficit would require nothing less than a national effort.

Education and talent

“In the report by the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, science, education and talent are listed side-by-side for the first time, stating that ‘education, science and technology, and human resources are the foundational and strategic pillars for building a modern socialist country in all respects,’” explained Wang Huiyao, founder and president of CCG, in his report at the Hongqiao Forum.

Wang believes that science and technology, education, and human resources will be crucial areas to focus on for the foreseeable future.

According to UN statistics, China has a median age of 38.4, which is still younger than Japan’s 48.7, but older than India’s 27.4 and Vietnam’s 32.4.

Given the demographics and the perception that many couples lack the desire to have more children, our average population increase would be substantially lower than the global average.

More cause for concern would be the structural cracks.

Consequently, when China is surpassed by India in terms of population, one of the more serious issues will be a paradigm shift in terms of the ratio of labor forces, as the size of the skilled labor force may predict the direction of industrial transfer, posing new challenges to the global division and distribution of economic resources and trade.

China will undoubtedly continue to demonstrate its resilience in the face of these obstacles.

We have every reason to expect that the country will be able to handle the demographic problems if the central and local governments are more proactive in developing incentives and benefits for would-be parents.


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