One-Child Policy

What was the only child policy?

The one-child policy was a policy implemented by the Chinese government as a method of population control, requiring that the vast majority of couples in the country can have only one child. This was intended to alleviate the social, economic and environmental problems associated with the rapid growth of the country’s population.

Understanding the one-child policy

The one-child policy was introduced in 1979 in response to explosive population growth. China has long promoted birth control and family planning. However, in the late 1970s, the Chinese population was rapidly approaching the billion mark and the Chinese government was forced to seriously consider slowing the rate of population growth. This effort began in 1979 with mixed results, but was implemented more seriously and consistently in 1980, as the government standardized the practice nationwide. There are, however, certain exceptions, for ethnic minorities, for those whose firstborn is disabled and for rural families in which the firstborn is not a boy. The policy was most effective in urban areas, where it was well received by nuclear families, more willing to comply with the policy; the policy has been opposed to some extent to the agrarian communities of China.

Key points to remember

  • The one-child policy was a policy of the Chinese government to control population growth. It has been estimated that it has prevented between 200 and 400 million births in the country.
  • It was introduced in 1979 and abandoned in 2020, and applied through a mixture of incentives and sanctions.
  • The one-child policy has had three important consequences for Chinese demography: it has drastically reduced the fertility rate, it has skewed the male-female ratio in China because people preferred to abort or abandon their female babies, and has resulted in a labor shortage due to the increased number of seniors who rely on their children to care for them.

Single Child Policy – Application

There are different methods of enforcement, both through incentives and sanctions. For those who complied, there were financial incentives, as well as preferential employment opportunities. For those who violated politics, there have been sanctions, economic and otherwise. Sometimes the government has used more draconian measures, including forced abortions and sterilizations.

The one-child policy was officially abandoned in 2020 and the government has attempted to replace it with a two-child policy. It is estimated that since 1979, the law has prevented between 200 and 400 million births. The effectiveness of the policy itself has, however, been questioned, as it is true that populations, in general, naturally decrease as societies get richer. In the case of China, as the birth rate fell, the death rate also fell and life expectancy increased.

Single Child Policy – Implications

The one-child policy has had a serious impact on the demographic and economic future of China. In 2020, China’s fertility rate was 1.6, among the lowest in the world.

China now has a considerable gender gap – there are around 3-4% more men than women in the country. With the implementation of the one-child policy and the preference for male children, China has seen an increase in female fetal abortions, an increase in the number of baby girls left in orphanages and even an increase in infanticide of baby girls. There were 33 million more men, with 115 boys per 100 girls, compared to women in China.

This will have an impact on marriage in the country and on a number of factors surrounding marriage for years to come. A lower number of women also means that there were fewer women of reproductive age in China.

Falling birth rates meant fewer children, which happened when death rates fell and longevity rates increased. It is estimated that a third of the Chinese population will be over 60 by 2050. This means that more elderly people rely on their children to support themselves and fewer children to do so. China is therefore facing a labor shortage and will find it difficult to support this aging population through its public services.

Finally, the one-child policy has led to the proliferation of undocumented and non-first-born children. Their undocumented status does not allow them to leave China legally, as they cannot register for a passport. They do not have access to public education. Often their parents have been fined or fired from their jobs.

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