SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Births in mainland China fell by 3.5 percent to 17.23 million last year, the China Daily reported on Friday, citing figures from the country's statistics bureau.
The fall in the number of births in 2017 came despite a 2016 move to relax China's so-called "one-child policy" and allow all couples to have a second child. The loosening of the restrictions came amid concerns about the country's rapidly aging population.
China Daily cited a spokesman with China's family planning commission as saying that the drop last year was down to the smaller number of women of fertile age and the growing number of people delaying marriage and pregnancy.
The decline came as a surprise, but the figure was still higher than the average number of births in the five previous years, the newspaper said.
According to figures published by the China Association of Social Security last year, China's elderly population is expected to reach 400 million by the end of 2035, up from around 240 million now, putting the country's health and social care services, as well as its pension funds, under increasing strain.
China's National Health and Family Planning Commission said earlier this month that average life expectancy in China reached 76.5 years last year, up from 74.83 years in 2010.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Michael Perry)