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The solution to shifting fertility rates lies in prioritizing the reproductive rights of all people

BEIJING, 11 July 2021 – On the occasion of World Population Day, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund in China and Peking University Institute of Population Research launched the Chinese language version of two UNFPA global papers on low fertility in Beijing. 

The two papers, titled “Policy responses to low fertility: How effective are they” and “Low fertility: A review of the determinants”, were part of a UNFPA technical working paper series on population and development. Building on global evidence, they present the experiences of advanced countries and regions in responding to low fertility. Their Chinese version will be for wide use by Chinese scholars and policy makers.

“While low fertility and population ageing first occurred in developed countries, they are now becoming increasingly an issue of concern for many countries. China is no exception to this. The two UNFPA papers are very relevant for the China context,” said Dr. Jia Guoping, the Population and Development Programme Specialist of UNFPA in China.

The two papers report that in many low fertility countries, individuals are not having as many children as they aspire to have, indicating their inability to realize their full reproductive rights. The reasons behind this are complex and a range of social, cultural and economic factors are determinants of low fertility.

In China, the latest 2020 national census has indicated a sustained fertility decline since the 1990s. In 2020, there were 12 million births registered, a 2.6 million decrease from 2019. The total fertility rate is 1.3, which is generally considered “very low fertility”. 

In comparison, Chinese women’s desired number of births is 1.8, as reported by the Commissioner of National Bureau of Statistics at the census data release. 

Against this backdrop, many countries have implemented policies aimed at increasing fertility. However, the papers have shown that stand-alone policy responses often do not work. For instance, financially incentivizing fertility does not lead to sustained higher birth rates in low-fertility countries. 

An alternative approach is to adopt a more holistic response, for example, by providing family support and strengthening affordable child-care systems whilst also introducing measures to ensure higher levels of gender equality.

China has taken steps in responding to its sustained low fertility. Two major policy shifts were made: one in 2016 that allowed all couples to have two children, and the most recent move in May 2021 to introduce a “three-child” policy. China also committed to follow up with a series of supportive measures for the policy to be effective.

“As UNFPA, we will continue to advocate for rights-based, people-centered and evidence-based approaches in the national responses to low fertility, for the fulfillment of the basic right of all couples and individuals in China to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children – a principle agreed on by all countries in the Programme of Action adopted at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994,” added Dr. Jia.


To download the report:

  • Policy responses to low fertility: How effective are they

English version: http://https://www.unfpa.org/publications/policy-responses-low-fertility-how-effective-are-they
Chinese version: https://china.unfpa.org/zh-Hans/publications/policy-responses-low-fertility-how-effective-are-they 

  • Low fertility: A review of the determinants

English version: https://www.unfpa.org/publications/low-fertility-review-determinants
Chinese version: https://china.unfpa.org/zh-Hans/publications/low-fertility-review-determinants 

To learn about World Population Day in 2021:

English version: https://www.unfpa.org/events/world-population-day 
Chinese version: https://china.unfpa.org/zh-Hans/events/world-population-day-21