When China put in place its one-child policy four decades ago, policy makers said they would simply switch gears if births dropped too much. That has turned out to be not so easy.
“In 30 years, the current problem of especially dreadful population growth may be alleviated and then [we can] adopt different population policies,” the Communist Party said in a 1980 open letter to members and young people.
With the number of births declining year after year, China is now racing in the opposite direction, closing abortion clinics and expanding services to help couples conceive. But a legacy of the one-child policy, scrapped in 2016, is a dwindling number of women of childbearing age as well as a generation of only children who are less eager to marry and start a family.
In addition, infertility appears to be a bigger problem in China than in many other countries. According to a survey by Peking University researchers, it affects about 18% of couples of reproductive age, compared with a global average of around 15%.