BEIJING (AP) -- Despite earlier estimates that new exemptions to China's one-child policy would add up to 2 million extra births per year, only 700,000 newly qualified couples applied to have a second child this year, a Chinese official said.
Zhao Yanpei, a senior official at the National Health and Family Planning Commission, told reporters at a briefing this week that although this year's number is lower than expected it is too early to conclude what effect the new policy will have in coming years on China's fertility rate, which is now at 1.5 to 1.6 births per woman.
Last year, China eased its one-child policy to allow couples in which one partner has no siblings to have two children. Couples in which both partners have no siblings and rural families whose firstborn child is a girl already have been allowed to have a second child for many years.
Demographers said last year that the easing was so incremental that a baby boom would be unlikely. They also noted that Chinese young people no longer wish for big families, and, even when they can, have opted not to have a second child.
The lower-than-expected number of applications for a second child has some critics arguing for the abolition of China's strict family planning policies, which have limited most urban families to only one child. They say China's low birth rate will cause the country to age quickly and hurt its economic viability.
Zhao said the number was low partly because some provinces did not implement rules until the middle of 2014 to allow newly qualified couples to apply to have a second baby.
"Because of concerns over child-bearing and child-raising costs, or other career-related considerations, many young couples are not in a hurry to have children," Zhao said. "As far as birthing is concerned, the policy has a time lag. It would be at least until the second year or the third year before we can tell if the overall birthing level would see any major change."
Zhao said there is no timetable to abolish the one-child policy.