Why China Is Ending 2-Child Policy to Allow Parents to Have 3 Babies

China has announced it will end its two-child policy, which limits married couples to two children, and will instead permit parents to have three children in what's seen as a major change for the country.

The decision was made at a meeting of the politburo, the decision-making body of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), chaired by President Xi Jinping and announced by state-run news agency Xinhua on Monday.

The major change in policy appears to be a reaction to data from the country's recent census. The once-in-a-decade survey showed that China's rate of population growth over the last decade was the lowest since the 1950s.

Census figures released earlier this month show the Chinese population now stands at 1.41 billion, according to Reuters.

This means it is still the most populous nation on Earth.

Moreover, data showed a fertility rate of 1.3 children per woman for 2020. This figure is on par with countries like Italy and Japan, both of which are aging societies.

The country's baby population declined 18 percent in 2020 with fewer mothers giving birth than in 2019.

In 2016, China had set a target for population growth of 1.42 billion by 2020, and missing this target is likely a factor in Monday's decision.

"From the trend of population development in recent years, the population growth will continue to slow in the future," said Ning Jizhe, head of the country's National Bureau of Statistics, following the release of the census data.

"China's population will reach a peak in the future, but the specific time is still uncertain. It is estimated that China's total population will remain at more than 1.4 billion in the near future," he said.

Xinhua reported on Monday's politburo decision, saying: "To further optimize the birth policy, [China] will implement a one-married-couple-can-have-three-children policy."

The news agency said that the policy change will come with "supportive measures, which will be conducive to improving our country's population structure, fulfilling the country's strategy of actively coping with an aging population and maintaining the advantage, endowment of human resources."

China is the world's second-largest economy but the census figures raise concerns that population decline may become irreversible before the country can reach the same household wealth as the G7 group of rich nations, which includes the U.S.

The country introduced its controversial one-child policy in 1979. This limited married couples to just one child and was widely criticized. It was designed to stop a population boom and reportedly prevented some 400 million births. However, parents who violated the policy faced fines, loss of employment and even forced abortions, according to BBC News.

In 2015, China announced it would implement a two-child policy. Its aim was to "improve the balanced development of population." This change was brought into force in 2016 but has failed to produce the population increases sought by the government.

On Monday, China also announced it would introduce delays in the country's age of retirement in a phased approach but did not offer details. Raising the retirement age is another measure that some analysts expected China to take.

Newsweek has asked the Chinese government for comment.

Medical Staff Member Feeds Baby in China
A medical staff member feeds a newborn baby in the pediatric ward of a hospital in Fuyang in China's eastern Anhui province on April 25, 2021. China has announced married couples will now be able to have three children. STR / AFP/Getty Images