Chinese experts have told The Age that five provinces are set to relax the policy next year and this trial may spread nationwide by 2013 or 2014, at which point China's working-age population will have stopped growing and the policy's ''demographic dividend'' will have become a headwind.
While no official announcement has been made, some family planning experts expect a pilot policy will soon permit a second birth in families where at least one spouse is an only child.
''Next year they will relax the policy in Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces,'' said He Yafu, an independent demographic expert who has connections with the Family Planning Commission.
''In 2012 I expect it will be extended to Shanghai, Beijing and other places and I am personally optimistic that it will be extended to the whole country in 2013 or 2014.''
Gradual reform and ultimately an end to the one child policy is inevitable.
After 2025 the working-age population is expected to shrink by about 10 million people a year, putting heavy strain on China's social security system and crimping the country's potential GDP growth rate.
By 2050 India is expected to have grown to 1.75 billion people compared with China's 1.44 billion, according to the Population Reference Bureau. China's population is now 1.34 billion and India's 1.19 billion.
As the aging population issue becomes more clear, China could reverse to policies that encourage people to have more children. Effective policies to increase population growth to replacement levels that started in 2015 would start impacting the workforce level forecasts by about 2032.
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