Feb. 28 (UPI) -- China is considering offering couples an incentive to have a second baby, the opposite of a four-decades policy of harsh fines for more than one child.
Wang Pei'an, vice minister of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, revealed the possibility Saturday at a meeting of the China Social Welfare Academy, which works closely with the government.
Wang said "birth rewards and subsidies" would help economically burdened families have more children.
Last year China ended the ban on having more than one child per family. The fine originally was $31,250 under China's family planning laws.
The change led to 17.8 million births in 2016, which was 1.3 million more than the previous year.
"That fully met the expectations, but barriers still exist and must be addressed," Wang told the conference. "To have a second child is the right of each family in China, but affordability has become a bottleneck that undermines the decision."
In a 2015 survey by the commission, 60 percent of families polled were reluctant to have a second baby largely because of economic constraints.
"It's not easy, and a 'baby bonus' plan should be applied evenly nationwide as all government policies should be transparent and fair for all," Wang said.
Lu Jiehua, a sociology professor at Peking University, told CNN the incentive idea is a start to help families. "The financial incentives would require more effort from other government agencies to cover the cost of raising a child, which is more important than giving birth," he said.
A mother of a 3-year-old girl in Beijing told CNN: "I don't expect cash from the government for a second child. Sound social public policies to help working parents raise the children are needed more." The woman mentioned other needs: prolonged maternity leave, equal working opportunities for mothers, quality education resources for children and a better social welfare system.
The one-child policy was instituted in 1979 after the baby boom starting in the 1950s. The country's fertility rate fell almost six births per female between 1960 and 1965 to 1.5 per woman between 1995 and 2014.
The population now is aging with 9.55 percent of the population older than 65, 114 million, according to a 2015 World Bank report.
China, with a 1.2 billion population, "will grow old before getting rich," said Philip O'Keefe, lead author of the World Bank report.
By 2050, the number of people 60 and older will reach 400 million, accounting for 30 percent of the population, according to government data provided to China Daily.