Photo: AFP

Following a jump in new births in 2016, last year saw China’s birth rate slide despite policy changes that hoped to bring about a sustained increase.

17.23 million babies were born in 2017, down from 17.86 the year bofore, according to data released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics this week.

2016’s increase of 1.31 million new babies missed Beijing’s projection of 18 million births, and this year’s decrease brings the country further away from a forecast of 20 million births annually.

The policy was hoping to shore up China’s workforce as Beijing prepares for a demographic crisis brought on by a rapidly aging population.

In a commentary published by Caixin, scholars warned the population cliff is coming faster than expected.

The article, coauthored by Peking University professor Liang Jianzhang and Johns Hopkins University demographer Huang Wenzheng, said the low fertility rate will be China’s biggest challenge in the coming decades.

The declining fertility is due in part to a sharp decline in women of childbearing age, they said. A census from 2010 projected the number to fall by 40% by 2025.

The authors proposed additional policies to encourage couples to have children, such as subsidies and tax breaks. But many argue that with the soaring cost of education and housing, young couples are unlikely to buck the trend toward smaller families.

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