China announced the end of its hugely controversial one-child policy on Thursday, with the official Xinhua news agency saying that all couples would be allowed two children.
It cited a communiqué issued by the ruling Communist Party after a four-day meeting in Beijing to chart the course of the world’s second-largest economy over the next five years. China is “abandoning its decades-long one-child policy,” Xinhua reported.
The policy restricted most couples to only a single offspring, and for years authorities argued that it was a key contributor to China’s economic boom. But after years of strict, sometimes brutal enforcement by a dedicated government commission, China’s population—the world’s largest—is now ageing rapidly, gender imbalances are severe, and its workforce is shrinking.
The concerns led to limited reforms in 2013, including allowing a second child for some couples in urban areas, but relatively few have taken up the opportunity.
The Communist leadership met in Beijing to discuss ways to put the country’s stuttering economy back on a smooth growth path as it struggles with structural inefficiencies and social policies left over from an era before it embraced market reforms. Known as the fifth plenum, the conclave discussed the next Five-Year Plan for China—the 13th since the People’s Republic was founded in 1949.
Over four days of meetings the 205 members of the Central Committee, plus around 170 alternates, examined the specifics of the plan, which was largely worked out through a process of national consultations before the leaders even set foot in the capital. The country’s rubber-stamp legislature will officially approve the resulting document next year.
The world’s most populous country has enjoyed a decades-long boom since the ruling party embraced market economics and opened up to the rest of the world from the late 1970s. The process has transformed the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people and propelled the country to global prominence.
But growth has been slowing for several years, and analysts say the party needs to embrace further liberalization to avoid falling into the stagnation of the “middle income trap,” when developing countries fail to fulfill their full potential.
The meeting reiterated the Communist Party’s goal to double 2010 GDP by 2020, as part of its aim to achieve a “moderately prosperous society” by the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party’s founding.