China's ruling Communist Party announced Thursday that it will abolish the country's decades-old one-child policy and allow all couples to have two children, removing remaining restrictions that limited many urban couples to only one, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The move to allow all couples to have two children was "to improve the balanced development of population" and to deal with an aging population, Xinhua said on its microblog.
Citigroup researchers said they expected a 5 to 10 percent rise in Chinese births, according to The Associated Press.
The widely unpopular policy was first introduced in 1979 as a temporary measure to curb a surging population and limit demands for water and other resources. It was long considered one of the party's most onerous intrusions into family life.
But the country has been moving toward easing family planning restrictions in recent years due to a variety of factors, including a looming labor crisis. China’s working-age population is drastically shrinking, and the United Nations projects that China will lose 67 million workers from 2010 to 2030. Meanwhile, China’s elderly population is expected to rise from 110 million in 2010 to 210 million in 2030. By 2050, the seniors will account for a quarter of the population.
China "is facing a demographic time bomb," Media Eghbal, head of countries analysis for Euromonitor International, a research firm, told The Associated Press.
The one-child policy was imposed to conserve resources. The Communist Party has said it led to 400 million fewer births. But with China's average age soaring, it has led to concerns about whether the shrinking workforce could support a growing pool of retirees.
In addition, the policy has led to a host of social problems, including forced abortions and sterilization of women, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Soon after it was first implemented, rural couples were allowed two children if their first-born was a girl. In November 2013, the party announced that it would also allow couples to have two children if one of the parents is a single child, the first substantial easing of the policy in nearly three decades.
Still, Thursday’s decision signals the government has acknowledged the policy's shortcomings.
It’s unclear what effect the shift will have on families. Some demographers and economists say that a new two-child policy will do too little to change China’s economic course and comes too late to solve the looming labor shortage. People are marrying later, some not at all, and many are choosing to have fewer or no children because of the financial burden, the Wall Street Journal adds.
Rural residents have been especially reluctant to have more than one child largely because of the costs associated with maintaining a larger family.
Wei Guang, the father of an 8-year-old son, told The Associated Press that he and his wife already were considering whether to have a second child, even though the cost was daunting. Wei said food, clothes, nannies, after-school lessons and other expenses can cost $16,000 a year.
"We know the cost will be substantial," said Wei, 51, who works in media and whose wife is in her 30s. "But we can manage."
Su Weihua, the mother of an 8-year-old daughter in the southern city of in Guangzhou, said she was making plans to get pregnant next year. She already was thinking about how to pay for a second child.
"I think we may spend less on things like traveling, luxury goods, expensive new phones or a bigger house," said Su, 36.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.