After being told by their government for more than 40 years how many children they can have, the people of China are close to regaining the freedom to decide themselves. The trends in population and birth rate are so worrisome to the nation's rulers that they're working on plans to not only drop restrictions but to encourage an increase in births, the Wall Street Journal reports. After holding couples to one child, then two, for years to curb population growth, China raised the legal limit to three children a couple of weeks ago. All the rules could be thrown out by 2025, when the Communist Party's five-year economic plan wraps up. State media reported that Chinese leader Xi Jinping has told officials to provide solutions to the falling birth rate, and he called the aging of the population a threat to national security.
The economy is central to the government's concerns. One danger of a shrinking population is that there won't be enough people of working age to support the growing number of retirees. And dropping childbirth restrictions completely could lead to more births among poor families in areas that already have needed economic help. An indication that increasing the population might not be so simple is a national reproductive survey, per the South China Morning Post. Infertility rates have been climbing, it found, and now one of every 5.6 couples of childbearing age in China has trouble conceiving. Experts have expressed urgency and impatience with the government for taking the incremental step of allowing three children. "What's the point of waiting another few years to abolish all controls?" one government adviser said. (Read more China stories.)