A Two-Child Policy for China?

Throughout history, few nations have been so radically altered by a single policy decision as China. In 1980, under Deng Xiaoping, it introduced its one-child policy. We wonder: How has this three decade-old policy reshaped China?

A. China’s population growth is far lower than world population growth
B. It has created a problematic gender imbalance
C. India will overtake China as the world’s most populous nation
D. China is facing a labor shortage

A. China’s population growth is far lower than world population growth is correct.

China’s one-child policy was imposed by the Chinese Communist Party in 1980 as a means of controlling runaway population growth. At that time, China was much poorer than it is today — and sustained levels of high population growth were seen as worsening the problem.

The policy limited most Chinese couples to having only one child. The overall impact of this measure has been profound. From 1950 to 1980, China’s population grew by 81% — outpacing world population growth, which increased by 76% over those three decades.

Since 1980, however, world population has grown by 61%, while China’s population has grown by only 41%.

As a result, China is facing new demographic challenges. It now has too few working-age people to sustain its booming economy and to support its aging population.

B. It has created a problematic gender imbalance is correct.

Chinese culture has traditionally favored male offspring, especially in rural parts of the country. Sons are preferred so that they can carry out farmwork, provide financial support for aging parents and to ensure the continuance of the family name.

In recent years, inexpensive ultrasound machines have made it possible for prospective parents to identify the gender of children and abort female fetuses. As a result, China now has a surplus of boys.

In 2005, China had 119 male births for every 100 female births, according to a study published in 2009 in the British Medical Journal. That was far above the 107 males for every 100 females born in industrialized countries.

Experts and policymakers fear that, as these boys reach adulthood, the relative scarcity of marriageable young women could result in an increase of crime and social instability.

C. India will overtake China as the world’s most populous nation is correct.

In 1980, China’s population was 984 million, accounting for 22.1% of the world total. More than three decades after the one-child policy was imposed, China’s share of the global population has fallen to 19.3%.

With 1.386 billion people, China is still the world’s most populous country — topping second-ranked India by more than 100 million. However, whereas China’s population grew by just 41% between 1980 and 2013, India’s population grew by 79%.

As a result, India is on track to overtake China in terms of population by the late 2020s, according to projections by the United Nations.

D. China is facing a labor shortage is correct.

China’s working-age population — those between the ages of 15 and 59 – fell from 940.7 million in 2011 to 937.3 million in 2012, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics. That was the first such drop in what is expected to be a long-term trend.

The shrinking of China’s working-age population will not only dampen the prospects of future economic growth, it will mean that a shrinking working-age population is working to support a growing retirement-age population.

In 2012, only 13% of China’s population was aged 60 or over. That is far lower than countries such as Japan and Germany, where 32% and 27% of the population, respectively, is 60 or older.

In the absence of major policy changes, however, the UN projects that 34% of China’s population will be over 60 by mid-century — much closer to Japan’s 41% and Germany’s 37% at that time.

In reaction to this and other distortions caused by the one-child policy, Chinese officials have recently proposed a relaxation of the policy, allowing almost all couples to have two children. Even so, demographers believe the changes will result only in 1-2 million more births per year — meaning the overall impact may be relatively small.

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