China’s one-child policy faces challenges

Since its implementation in the late 1970s, China’s one child policy has been criticized from various aspects. Foreign media accuses China of not respecting human rights. The drastic drop in fertility rate also becomes a potential challenge for the Chinese economy to prosper in the next few decades.

“In 30 years, when our current extreme population growth eases, we can then adopt a different population policy,” read the announcement from  the Communist Party Central Committee in 1980. But now the one child policy is still firmly in place, and according to a speech by Weiqing Zhang, the director of China’s Population and Birth Control Committee, “the policy will not change in the short-term”.

But facing the adverse economic and social impact of the policy, the Chinese government has amended it. Starting from 2007, in most provinces, couples who are both the only child in the family are allowed to have two children, regardless of the gender of the first child. Some argue that the young couples already face the pressure of supporting 4 parents and are not likely to have two children. The burden of old age support has fallen onto the workforce generation.

The one child policy varies a lot from region to region. And whether you have to stick to the rule depends on your occupation. Rural residents can have a second child if their first one is a girl. This makes sense because back in the 1980s the rural households mainly depends on the male labor to work in the field. But this specification of the policy has spurred a huge increase in rural population and a decrease in urban population. Although Chinese cities are expanding, it’s because of the migrants from rural areas. The migrants cannot enjoy the benefits of the city, because the hukou system prevents them from settling down.

The skewed sex ratio (see Economist report) is another widely accused consequence of the one child policy. Chinese have a deeply rooted preference towards son, viewing having sons as “passing down the tradition of the family”. A girl will become other’s wife and leave the family. Moreover, in some regions, girls are not responsible for supporting the parents. If parents view having children as their old age support, they will definitely prefer one son to one daughter if they are limited to one child only. The skewed sex ratio has caused declining marriage rates and increasing crime rates (see paper on this topic).

As one of the “only children” in Chinese families, I feel the loneliness shared by our generation. I saw an article today (here) investigating people’s fertility choices under the one child policy and how to intervene people’s behaviors. The author suggests that the first son is worth 1.42 years of income than a first daughter to a couple. Then the author proposes two ways to solve the sex ratio problem: (a) provide subsidies to rural families with one year’s income, and (b) switch to a three-children policy.

To revise the one-child policy is a must. But the large bureaucratic system behind is hard to eradicate (see Economist’s article ). Since the implementation of the one child policy, rural family control committees have been asking for fines to peasants for having more children. This is also the case for urban officials in the discipline.


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