Beijing announced last week that it has put an end to the 35-year long limitation on the amount of children a family could have: the One-Child Policy. The replacement is an equally forceful Two-Child Policy. The policy shift is a result of economic and demographic concerns, as China has joined the ranks of Japan, Germany, and Canada in shrinking working population and rising age dependency ratio. The One-Child Policy is inarguably one of the most controversial social experiments of the 20th century, attempting to change the family makeup and reproductive behavior of billions in the world. Now that the end to this policy has been announced, it is time to see what valuable lessons it has to offer and how the new change would influence China, and the world, in the future.
- The One-Child Policy Worked, and Didn’t Work
China has lifted over 600 million people out of poverty over the last several decades, a feat never accomplished by any other country—although notably only India can join China in the group has over 310 million residents. The success could be partially due to the implementation of the One-Child Policy, as it ensures poor families do not have more children than they can afford to raise. In addition, the policy did what it was intended to do: control population growth. According to the Census of China, the rise in population per year went from +17.42% in 1982 down to +7.39% in 2010. However, today, China still has an average of 1.7 children per family, placing it at the same level with high birth rates nations like Brazil and Iran, neither with restrictive birth control policies.
The faults in the policy are its unfair stipulations. Around 60-70% of rural families are allowed to have a second child, compared to only 10% in urban families. In addition, ethnic minorities (not Han) have always been able to have more than one child. It is also interesting to note that the fine for having an unauthorized second child was not often enforced, with many regions purposely ignored and many officials circumventing the fine system. The rich and more powerful faced barely any obstacles when they wanted to have a second or even a third child.
- The New Policy May Not Better Women’s Rights
It is now well-known that due to the One-Child Policy, China has forced an uncountable number of women into involuntary abortions and sterilizations. In addition, many female babies are being aborted or abandoned by rural families who view males as more valuable, leaving the ratio close to 107 males per 100 females. However at the same time, some women argue that the One-Child Policy advances women’s rights for females who are the only child in their household; these girls are given the chance to be treated on the same ground as boys. More women than men now attend college in China. 64% of Chinese women are in the workforce, 8% higher than that of the United States. After the policy change was announced, many women voiced their concerns on the Internet worrying that they will be forced to have a second child if their first child is female, and thus being forced out of their workplaces for longer. Activist Lu Ping stated during an interview with Fenghuang Television that she worries reproduction rights are being put into the hands of men, and that the nation is turning towards creating strictly patriarchal family structures. Without mandatory government restrictions in place, women may be forced to have children until a boy is born. The violation of women’s rights does not change with the Two-Child Policy; it simply takes a new form.
- The New Policy Might Not Even Work
The new policy indubitably exists to prevent future economic downfalls caused by a high age dependency ratio. However, will it really make families have more kids? In a recent survey on Weibo, 19.9% of 52,000 people who voted said they didn’t want a second child, and 18% said they wanted a second child but couldn’t afford it. Another 13.4% stated they don’t want to have any children. Only 35.8% indicated they plan on actually having a second child. As one of the top-rated comments stated, “This has nothing to do with opening up to all couples or not. Those who can’t afford having second children definitely won’t have second children, while those who can afford will go and have second children anyway, no matter what the policy is.” The main concern for the Chinese now, when it comes to having more children or not, may not be whether the first child is a boy or a girl, but whether the family can afford to raise the child.
It is hard to imagine a mindset that took 35 years to establish will be changed easily in the near future. Whether China’s now Two-Child Policy will really solve its future economic and demographic woes will only be seen in the future, when the outcome of the nation’s second social experiment on population is revealed.