China’s ruling Communist Party said on Monday that all couples will be allowed to have three children, eliminating a two-child policy that has failed to solve the country’s dropping birthrates and imminent demographic problem.
Concerns were expressed that China’s fast increasing elderly population will worsen a labor shortage and put the economy under strain in the near future.
The Politburo, the party’s top decision-making body, made the statement following a meeting. The decision would “assist in improving our country’s population structure and implementing a national strategy to aggressively respond to the aging population,” according to the statement.
The “one-child” policy was imposed in 1980 as a way to slow population growth and bolster the economic boom that was then just beginning.
As Chinese officials became more aware of the implications of the country’s aging population, the government permitted parents from one-child families to have two children of their own in 2013.
Two years later, on January 1, 2016, the limit was raised to two children for everyone.
Demographers in China have long urged the government to lift all birth restrictions, but despite evidence that the two-child policy was ineffective, Beijing has been slow to act.
China’s birth rate has been declining for four years in a row. Nonetheless, the announcement on Monday caught several experts off guard.
The party’s announcement on Monday is likely to revive longstanding complaints about the government’s invasive control over women’s bodies in China. On China’s popular social media platform, Weibo, users were quick to post remarks criticizing the move as ineffective.