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The Chinese politics of family-planning

Come March 2016, and China’s de facto Parliament will repeal its most controversially famous law: the one-child policy. After controlling its people’s reproductive practices for a quarter of a century, the Communist Party has finally decided to allow Chinese couples to have two children. And a quick glance at the map above will tell you why.

According to the CIA World Factbook, on which this map is based, the median age in China is 37.7 years. This means that half of China’s populace is younger than 37.7 years, while the other half is older than this age. Compare this to another Southeast Asian powerhouse, India, and you find that the country’s median age sits comfortably at 27.3 years.

A swiftly ageing population doesn’t bode well with China’s plans to avoid an economic slowdown. Fewer young people would anyway mean a slump in the workforce, something which Japan and Germany are facing. These countries are tied for the world’s oldest nations, with their median age being 46.5 years.

But, what’s even scarier for China is the fact that the United Nations is convinced that by 2050, the median age in the country will climb up to 50. So much so, China Renaissance bank chief Fan Bao is certain that China is set to become “world’s largest old-age home.” By 2050, the country’s elderly population is supposed to reach 438 million. And at that time, the burden of caring for the people is going to fall on the one-child generation. Those born in the 1980s would be caring for their parents, themselves, and their own children as well.

For the two-child policy to yield any impact, it would anyway require a minimum of 15 years. And nobody is talking about the cost of living in urban China. A poll of over 150,000 people on popular Chinese media site Sina last weekend found that less than 30% of respondents were willing to have a second child. So, as Chinese government tries to rebalance the ageing population, perhaps it should ask itself a pertinent question: Can its people even afford to have a second child?