For a long time the existence of ‘black children’ at China’s country side- offspring outside the country’s one-child policy and not accounted for in its statistics – were seen as an illegal but useful counter measure for the aging problem and the shortage of cheap labor. But the rural fertility rate is not as high as many hope for, tells CASS-director Zhang Juwei in The Economist.
The recent CASS report said the rate that would be expected if women had exactly as many children as allowed would be 1.47. The government uses the higher figure believing that many “black children” were missed by censuses. But the report disagreed, saying such serious underreporting was unlikely. It said data showed that the 150m-strong migrant population has a fertility rate of only 1.14 (similar to that of registered urban residents). This belies the common image of migrants as big producers of unauthorised offspring. Zhang Juwei of CASS believes the overall fertility rate is no higher than 1.6.
China cannot avoid its looming ageing problem, but these lower fertility estimates suggest its impact could be greater than officials have bargained for. The CASS study calls for a “prompt” change of policy to get the fertility rate up to around the “replacement level” of 2.1. The problem could be in persuading Chinese to have more children. In cities and wealthier rural areas, surveys found that the number of babies women said they actually wanted would produce a fertility rate well below 1.47.