China's "dragon" baby boom may boost population in 2024, says report

HONG KONG (Reuters): More babies are being born in hospitals across China in the Year of the Dragon, financial news outlet Yicai reported, an increase which could soften the decline in population in 2024 and bring cheer to policymakers.

The Dragon Chinese zodiac sign is believed to be particularly auspicious, and data from hospitals over the Lunar New Year which began on Feb. 10 showed that the number of newborns had increased "significantly", Yicai said.

The newspaper cited a hospital in Wuxi, in eastern China, reporting a 20% increase in the number of newborns compared to a year ago, while a hospital in the northwestern Shaanxi province reported a 72% increase in new births compared to 2023.

Marriage rates in China are closely tied to birth rates as unmarried mothers are often denied child-raising benefits, and last year, the number of marriage registrations rose for the first time in several years, due to a backlog from the pandemic.

Chinese policymakers are worried about the decline in births in a rapidly ageing population, with President Xi Jinping saying last year it was necessary to "actively cultivate a new culture of marriage and childbearing" for national development.

Many young people, however, are opting to stay single or put off getting married due to poor job prospects, record youth unemployment and chronically low consumer confidence as growth in the world's second largest economy slows.

Demographers say the "dragon baby" boom will likely be short lived as more women choose to remain childless due to high childcare costs as well as an unwillingness to marry or put their careers on hold in a traditional society where women are still seen as the main caregivers and where gender discrimination remains rife.

Xi has said women should prioritise telling "good family tradition stories". However, raising children leads to a reduction in women's paid work hours and wage rates, while men's livelihoods remain largely unchanged, a study by a Beijing policy institute said this week.

(Reporting by Farah Master; editing by Miral Fahmy) - Reuters

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