China should enhance incentives for people to build families and boost the birth rate as the country's now-falling population could threaten the world's second-biggest economy, a Chinese family planning expert said.
Mainland China's population fell by 850,000 last year, the first decline since 1961, to 1.42 billion, the government said last month, potentially falling behind India's as the world's largest, the start of a likely long decline with profound implications for its economy and the world.
Wang Pei'an, deputy director of the China Family Planning Association, said on Saturday more tax incentives should be created based on the family unit that could encourage births.
Speaking at the third Chinese and Development Forum in Beijing, Wang cited a growing trend among younger generations to forestall having children. He called for more incentives around employment, medical care, social security and housing that could encourage people to build families.
Read more: China's population drops for first time since 1961
The government imposed a one-child policy on families in much of the country between 1980 and 2015, but with the population now falling, the authorities are scrambling to prop up the birth rate.
In calling for more supportive measures, health officials cite factors such as worries over expenses and younger women focusing on careers.
The average Chinese household shrank to 2.62 people in 2020, a decrease of 0.48 from 2010, according to a survey cited by state broadcaster CCTV.
A 2021 survey found women born in the 1990s felt the ideal number of kids to have was 1.54, while for those born in the 2000s it was just 1.19. The percentage of women who never had children surged to nearly 10% in 2020 from 6.1% in 2015.
"In China, the level of maternity protection is still very low," Wang said, adding that without the effort to cultivate a need for marriage and children, it would be extremely difficult to boost fertility levels.
The average age a woman first marries rose from 22 in the 1980s to 26.3 in 2020, and the age of first childbearing was delayed to 27.2 years, according to CCTV.
Wang pointed to a 2021 survey by the China Population and Development Research Center, showing fewer than 70% of women under the age of 35 thought life was complete only when one had children.