Is the one-child policy still necessary? This Sun Daily article points out that there are many Chinese cities in which families that could’ve had more than one child chose to have just one. This might lead us to think that getting rid the policy would most likely not cause a sharp increase in population, it could instead give back to Chinese couples the right to choose how many children they wish to have and at the same time avoid a worsening of the demographic consequences of the policy, such as the unbalance between the number of men and women. But first, let’s look at the one-child policy and explain how it actually works.
The one-child policy was first introduced in 1978 with the aim of reducing the population growth in China, which ballooned 75 percent between 1949 and 1976. Families found themselves unable to sustain and raise all their children. Besides restricting population growth, the one-child policy also allowed a faster economic growth that China might not have been able to reach otherwise.
To enforce the policy, fines and late-term abortions were permitted. Moreover, an unauthorized birth could potentially put a couple’s employment status, housing situation, and other state-controlled resources at risk.
The Chinese economy may have grown by leaps and bounds, but the more regrettable consequences of the one-child policy are now well-known: demographic imbalances, increase in child mortality rates, and the ageing of the society. Opponents of the policy also highlight other society problems, such the emergence of so-called “little emperors.”
Many families preferred to have a male rather than a female child. As a result, rates of female infanticide rapidly increased – particularly before selective abortion was outlawed in 1994. The practice also led to an imbalanced sex ratio, which means that many young men are struggling to find a partner.
Currently, ten percent of the Chinese population is aged 60 and above. The problem of the rapid growth of the elderly population wouldn’t be immediately solved with the abolition of the one-child policy. Rather, a few decades would be necessary to bring the situation to a better equilibrium. A society with such a high percentage of older people may encounter many issues. First of all, there is the need to provide better medical care. That means the state has to spend more money on their welfare. Secondly, an aging society also slows down economic growth due to low replacement rates for jobs.
“Little emperors” are what the new generation of only children is often called. Since families only have one child, that child is often spoiled by parents and other relatives, used to have everything they desire, and unable to interact with their peers. But at the same time, they have to bear a great pressure to succeed at school and at work.
When it was introduced, the one-child policy was only intended as a temporary measure to minimize the country’s population growth and spur its economy. However, it has now been more than 30 years since the one-child policy was put in place, and many economists and scholars believe that it is no longer necessary.
Nowadays, the policy isn’t as strict as it used to be. There are many cases in which families are allowed to have more than one child.
Many rural families can have more than one child, and most provinces allow couples who were only children themselves to have two children. City dwellers usually don’t have a choice but to obey the one-child policy, with a few exceptions (e.g. the couple’s first child is physically handicapped or are members of an ethnic minority).
What surprises many scholars is that, even in cases where families are eligible to have more than one child, they choose to stop at one. There are numerous reasons for this. Many families feel that having more than one child may be more of a burden. Education is expensive. Because the quality of life has increased, these families prefer to raise one child well rather than raise two not well.
For these reasons and more, an end to the one-child policy would not lead to an uncontrollable and sudden population growth. Both lifestyle and quality of life have changed dramatically; Chinese people increasingly finish their studies later and focus on their career before children. There may be an increase in the first few years, but it would eventually stabilize itself. At this point, putting to an end to this form of birth control might just benefit the country.
More information on the one-child policy and this issue can be found at Can China Afford to Continue Its One-Child Policy?
Photo by Alex E. Proimos on flickr