Free IVF for Beijing’s Citizens to Tackle Falling Birthrate in China

Eloise Edington  |   2 Mar 2022

From this month, government officials in China will pay couples more than £3,000 for fertility treatment in an effort to tackle the country’s declining birthrate.

At Fertility Help Hub, we know how expensive fertility treatment can be so it’s no surprise there are concerns that £3,000 will barely make a dent in the financial investment of IVF.

So with the country’s birthrate declining rapidly, will China’s introduction of a financial incentive successfully boost the population?

Read on to learn why China’s birthrate is declining, what measures have been introduced to date and whether financial incentives for fertility treatment will work.

By Holly Pigache

Why is China’s birthrate declining?

In 1980, China introduced a nationwide one-child policy to combat the country’s accelerating birthrate. Between 1980 and 2016 (when the repressive policy ended), around 400 million births were prevented, according to the Chinese government.  Whilst the policy was in place, a preference for sons was not uncommon which led to many baby girls being aborted, killed just after birth, abandoned or placed in orphanages.

In 2015, the BBC reported that during the 2000s, 21 boys per 1,000 live births died whereas the figure amongst girls was 28 per 1,000.  Moreover, the report notes that “infant mortality figures cover all reasons for death [yet] the change is notable.”  The increased incidence of girls dying isn’t exclusively due to infanticide, however, and it’s quite possible that parents chose to allocate healthcare and nurturing resources to sons rather than daughters.

Those complying with the policy were offered financial rewards and improved employment options.  Those who didn’t comply were at risk of strict enforcement measures, including forced abortions and forced sterilisation.  In families who already had one child, any additional children born often went undocumented, causing issues registering for education and employment as well as problems securing housing later in life.

The repressive policy was revoked in 2016 but in that 36 year period, a reduction in the number of girls born and surviving childhood meant there were fewer women reaching child-bearing age.  According to Britannica, there were 33.59 million more men than women when the law was repealed for a two-child policy.  Since 2021, the law has been relaxed further to allow families have up to three children.

Why is a declining birthrate a problem?

Alongside the ongoing impact of the one-child policy, many women in China are prioritising career paths over having children.  This is exacerbated by rising costs of living and education.  With fewer births to replenish the lives lost through natural death amongst the elderly, China’s population has declined.  And a declining birthrate leads to slowed GDP growth.

Put simply: smaller populations = fewer people to consume goods and services originating from that country (domestic consumption) = slower economic growth.

China’s ageing population also puts a strain on younger generations required to prop up the economy and care for pensioners.  If young people feel there are better prospects overseas, leaving their home country to start a family abroad may be a tempting possibility for some.

What have local governments in China done so far to boost the birthrate?

  • Hospitals in Xianto, Hubei province, offered to cover the cost of childbirth and the equivalent of a £60 subsidy for the first child and £84 for the second
  • Changsha, Hunan province, launched an advertising campaign in 2018 giving “1,001 reasons to have a baby”
  • Another campaign across China promotes women taking up the role of primary caregivers of their parents and children and refers to these set-ups as “beautiful families”
  • Jilin province provides loans of up to £1,300 to married couples having children, with interest rates reduced depending on the number of children born
  • Several provinces have banned abortions after 14 weeks or provided housing subsidies for families with three children
  • All provinces have extended maternity leave with some incrementally increasing maternity leave between a woman’s first, second and third child
  • China has also banned tutors charging for private tuition, partly as an attempt to ease some of the financial burdens of education parents face.

Free fertility treatment to boost the population?

China’s government seem concerned the nation’s birthrate has declined so from this month will pay out more than £3,000 to couples in Beijing undergoing fertility treatment.  Officially, the money will help couples pay for IVF and the government has said there is no limit on the number of IVF cycles a couple can have to try to conceive.

However, with common fertility treatments like IVF costing the equivalent of £3,400 to £11,500, some condemn this policy.  Critics suggest £3,000 will make very little difference to the average couple, who will still be expected to spend enormous amounts of money for fertility treatment.  Still, the response has mostly been positive as it is estimated that 40 million people in China experience fertility difficulties.  For some couples, this could help them realise their family-building dreams.

Of course, it’s too early to tell whether subsidised IVF treatment will make a difference to China’s population but at FHH, we’ll be keeping a close eye on how matters evolve.

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