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Urban Birthrate Dip
Contrary to widespread concerns that the baby boomers born in the 1960s and 1970s might give birth to another baby boom, the birthrate in major Chinese cities has continued to fall as most urbanites choose to get married and have children at a much later age.

In Tianjin, a northern municipality with a population of over 10 million, 74,600 babies were born in 2001, 24,000 less than the 1997 figure, according to the city's statistical bureau.

The latest national census, conducted in 2000, found children aged between 0 to 14 years old totaled 1.68 million in Tianjin, about 16.8 percent of the city's population and down nearly 6 percent from the 1.99 million reported in 1990.

Sources say the birthrate in Tianjin proper has dropped to 0.9 percent over the past decade, indicating that one out of ten married women choose not to have a baby.

Fewer babies are being born in recent years as many young urbanites have delayed marriage and pregnancy, said a family planning official.

"Unlike their parents who got married at 20, many young urbanites remain single in their late 20s," said Liu Lina, an official with the Tianjin Municipal Family Planning Commission. "And many couples wait until their 30s to have a child, if they decide to have one at all," she added.

Incomplete figures show that in 2001, major hospitals in Tianjin received some 4,000 pregnant women over the age of 35 -- considered by doctors to be vulnerable and needing special care before and during their delivery.

A lower birthrate poses new challenges to small-scale kindergartens and nurseries, some of which, failing to recruit enough children, are forced to merge with larger ones or close down.

In 2001, Tianjin had about 2,600 kindergartens and nurseries, asharp decline from the 4,700 reported in 1995. Their total number of employees also dropped from 37,000 to 19,000.

The shortfall of school-aged children in the city is very likely to impact primary and secondary schools in the near future, insiders say.

Experts say the decreasing birthrate is not merely a result of the country's family planning policy, but also mirrors tremendous changes in the people's way of thinking and living.

"With a sound pension scheme and other social welfare facilities, parents do not have to rely solely on their children after retirement," said Li Jianmin, a demographer with the Tianjin-based Nankai University.

"Besides, many young people -- males as well as females -- value career development more than household affairs. Some even think it is a burden to have a baby, given the financial pressure a baby might bring," added Li.

Guo Hongmao, an economist with Nankai University, said restrained population growth can contribute to social and economic development by reducing consumption and increasing the per capita gross domestic product through relieving the pressure on living, education, employment, medical services, social security and environment.

Guo gave figures that only 0.71 percent of the newly increased GDP in Tianjin was consumed by the newborn population between 1991and 2001, down from the 5.76 percent between 1980 and 1990.

At the end of 2001, China's population stood at 1.276 billion and was growing at about 0.695 percent, far below the 1.56 percent reported in 1982.

(Xinhua News Agency November 5, 2002)

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