After decades of restrictive family planning policies, China's push to encourage more couples to have a second child has fallen short of expectations in the first year, state media reported Monday.
The National Health and Family Planning Commission received less than half of the expected two million annual applications for couples to have a second child, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, without citing exact numbers.
The world's most populous country has restricted most families to a single child since the late 1970s, but the Communist Party has started easing controls, allowing couples to have two offspring so long as one of the parents is an only child, rather than both.
The change began with a pilot programme in the wealthy coastal province of Zhejiang before expanding nationwide. Couples must still submit an application to the commission before having a second child, and not all have been approved.
China has a population of 1.36 billion, the National Bureau of Statistics said last year, but its working-age population fell by 2.44 million last year.
Over-60s accounted for 14.9 percent of the total, it said, and projections show that they will represent one in four of the population -- 350 million people -- by 2030.
The new policy mostly affects couples in urban areas, where the family planning policy has been implemented more strictly than in the countryside.
But education and housing are expensive in cities, and reliance on children in old age is lower, making multiple offspring less necessary.
China's birth limit policies have at times been brutally enforced, with authorities relying on permits, fines, and, in some cases forced sterilizations and late-term abortions.