Introduced at the end of 2014, China’s two-child policy was expected to boost the country’s declining birth rate. However, the results have been quite the opposite: according to the National Bureau of Statistics, there were 16.55 million births in China in 2015, 320,000 fewer than the year before.
With 11 million eligible couples, experts predicted the two-child policy would result in one million additional births in 2015. So what went wrong?
According to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, the issue is female demographics. The number of Chinese women aged 15 to 49 decreased by five million in 2015 from the year before. At the same time, women between 20 and 29 years old, thought to be the optimal time for procreation, declined by 1.5 million.
The commission denied that the declining birth rate was the result of public superstition around the Year of the Goat (or ram, or lamb), though not entirely. Toward the end of 2014, expectant mothers were self-inducing birth before the arrival of the unlucky Year of the Ram. Accordingly, many families decided to hold off on giving birth until the following zodiac cycle, which commenced with the Year of the Monkey.
As for why the Year of the Goat, is deemed to be unlucky, the superstition dates all the way back to the Qing Dynasty. Due to stringent restrictions on freedom of expression, Chinese would often speak in code to express their hatred of the Dowager Empress, Cixi. They coined the phrase “Nine out of ten goats are unlucky”, a subtle jab at Cixi who was born in the Year of the Lamb.
In order to dissuade Chinese from perpetuating the belief that the Year of the Lamb is unlucky, the People’s Daily Online explained that the character for lamb is part of many Chinese words for “lucky”. It also offered examples of successful people born in the Year of the Lamb, including Chow Yun-Fat and Steve Jobs.
With the Year of the Lamb out of the way for another 12 years, the number of newborns is expected to rise. The National Health and Family Planning Commission anticipates anywhere from 17.5 to 21 million newborns each year over the next five years.