The change was approved during a politburo meeting chaired by President Xi Jinping on Monday, the official news agency Xinhua reported.
The decision in 2016 to relax China’s one-child policy and allow people to have a second child had failed to reverse the country’s falling birth rate as the high cost of raising children in Chinese cities deterred many couples from starting families.
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 ageing population and maintaining the advantage, endowment of human resources”, state news agency said. It did not specify the support measures.
China’s once-a-decade census, released earlier this month, showed that 12 million babies were born in the past year, the lowest since 1961, during the Great Famine.
The census showed China’s 2020 fertility rate was 1.3 children per woman – below the replacement level of 2.1 needed for a stable population putting it on a par with ageing societies like Japan and Italy.
This had raised concerns for almost all the walks of life including fear of a drop in economic demand, dwindling work force and difficulties in managing recruitments for Chinese Army which is world’s largest.
The combination of a lack of affordable public childcare, rising living costs and the gruelling hours many people must work to survive are all contributing to reluctance among millennials to have children. Not only is domestic help out of reach for many working-class Chinese, but so is affordable childcare.
Also on Monday, China’s politburo emphasized to progressively raise the retirement age, but did not provide any details.