PARIS • The end of China's one-child-per-couple limit last year will not provide the population boost sought by Chinese leaders in the near term, according to a study released yesterday.
Any potential benefits the new two-child rule might have for the nation's shrinking workforce and rapidly ageing population will not be felt for at least two decades, the study concluded.
China is faced with deep demographic challenges thanks to the strict - and sometimes brutal - enforcement of its single-child policy, introduced in the late 1970s.
The new rules will "allow most people to have their desired number of children and help address the skewed sex ratio", said Professor Therese Hesketh, a researcher at University College London and co-author of the study, published in The Lancet.
The two-child limit will also reduce the number of abortions of unapproved pregnancies, and could eliminate the problem of unregistered children, she said in a statement. "But the effect on population ageing and the shrinking workforce will take longer to be felt."
The country's workforce is on track to decline by as much as 23 per cent by 2050.
The retirement age is 55 for women, and 60 for men.
The most populous nation on Earth, China counted 1.37 billion people at the end of last year.
The one-child policy was introduced by top leader Deng Xiaoping to curb population growth and promote economic development.
The result was dramatic: Fertility rates dropped from 5.9 births per woman in 1970 to about 1.6 in the late 1990s.
Concerns about demographic imbalance mounted, but Chinese leaders hesitated to simply abolish the one-child policy, fearing it would lead to a population explosion. As a halfway measure, they allowed parents who were themselves only children to have two of their own.
But by May last year, only 1.45 million couples - less than 15 per cent of those eligible - applied to have a second child.
In October last year, the two- child policy was made universal. It took effect from January this year.