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Chinese online travel agency Trip.com is offering Rmb1bn ($140mn) in cash subsidies to encourage its employees to have more children, one of the first times a local tech company has worked to turn around the country’s declining birth rate.
The travel group, which owns booking sites including Ctrip, Skyscanner and Qunar, said it will pay a bonus of Rmb 10,000 for each new child until they turn five.
China’s population shrank last year for the first time in decades, and its birth rate fell sharply to a record low – 6.77 births for every 1,000 people in 2019, down from 10.41.
The size and speed of the country’s demographic change threatens to overwhelm similar crises in other aging countries such as Japan and Italy. India is set to overtake China as the world’s most populous country by mid-2023, according to a United Nations study published this spring.
James Liang, founder and executive chairman of Trip.com, is also a demographer, and has been pushing the government to rethink public policy for years.
“With the introduction of new childcare benefits, we aim to provide financial support that encourages our employees to start or raise their families without compromising their professional goals and performance,” he said in a statement on Friday.
The company said the stipend is only given to employees who have been with the company for at least three years.
A demographic crisis is roiling the ruling Communist Party, which has limited births for more than three decades under a strict one-child policy. But with a rapidly aging population and a declining birth rate, officials are now rushing to increase births.
President Xi Jinping told officials last month that population growth is a “crucial issue” and issued a number of related policies. They include dismantling the after-school system, increasing benefits for parents and making divorce more difficult.
Increased private sector procurement could help the party’s efforts. While Trip.com has just 30,000 employees, the public announcement was met with great acclaim by Chinese state media on Friday and could prompt other companies to follow suit.
“They can serve as an example,” said Li Chengdong, head of Internet think tank Haitun. But Lee said Ctrip is in a unique position following the lifting of zero-covid restrictions. “They made a lot of money in the first quarter,” he said.
The trend of Chinese companies rewarding workers for having children is gaining momentum. The Sanitation and Personal Hygiene Group said the Qiaoyin city government will pay for diapers and infant formula for any newborns in June, and give a Rmb100,000 bonus to workers with three children.
Liang is one of the few Chinese tech chiefs willing to publicly advise on matters outside of business. During Shanghai’s brutal lockdown last year, he sparked a temporary ban on his Weibo social media account for publicly questioning the country’s zero-covid strategy.
In January, he posted on social media that “China’s decline in birth rate and aging is faster and worse than Japan’s,” warning that the population decline seen in 2022 was “just the beginning.”
Although they support the implementation of several policies to change the situation, they also pointed out that the financial support provided by the government is not enough.