Career: Supply Chain Operations Research Analyst | Nestle USA | Los Angeles, California, USA
How Long Can China's One Child Policy Go On?
China’s one child policy, implemented in late 1970s in an attempt to address problems of overpopulation and the environmental, has been in effect for three decades.
Authorities estimate that the country has about four hundred million fewer people today than it would have had without the policy.
The one child policy has allowed the country to provide better health service for women, increase the involvement of women in the labor force, and have other benefits. In addition, however, it has had several side effects, some of them unwanted.
One such problem is gender-selective abortion and child abandonment. China has a long tradition of preferring male offspring. In recent years, the widespread availability of ultrasound technology has made the illegal practice or gender-selective abortion much more widespread. And in some rural areas parents abandon unwanted children, most of whom are girls, as part of their effort to escape heavy fines for breaking the one child policy. These abandoned children end up living in state-sponsored orphanages, with thousands of them being adopted by foreign and Chinese parents each year. Data from the U.S. government show the number of immigration visas issued to children coming from China increasing steadily over the past twenty years. Girls make up a majority of these children, and the proportion of girls has increased over time. Illegal practices in China stemming from the one child policy have led to a gender-based birthrate disparity of 117 boys for every 100 girls in 2000. According to official reports there will be 30 million more men than women in 2020, a disparity that has great potential for social instability.
The one child policy has also led to a severe problem of population aging in China. The country became an aging society in 2000 with 6.96% of the population over 65. In 2004, this figure increased to 7.58%, and it is estimated that it will stand at 16.1% in 2020. As a result, the elderly-to-worker ratio keeps increasing, moving from 1:12.8 in 1975 to 1:9.3 in 2005. Looking back over the history of Europe and North America, such changes occurred over a period of one hundred and fifty years on average. China has compressed this into only one fifth of the time, leading to the creation overnight of an aging population. And based on the projected data, the aging population will increase much faster than populations in other age groups over the next one hundred years.
Because of the one child policy, family structure in China has changed greatly over the past thirty years. Nowadays, a “4-2-1” family is very common, meaning the only child in the family has to support his or her two parents and four grandparents. At the same time, social security and social welfare provide only a low level of support, albeit to a wide range of people. If a single child cannot support the entire family, then there is little guarantee of support for the elders. One consequence of this is that people save a great deal for retirement. The changes in family structure that derive from the one child policy have challenged traditional patterns of senior care in families and also allowed people to rethink family planning. Today some local governments are encouraging the creation of community rest homes to take over care for senior citizens. In addition, some provinces now allow couples to have two children if both members of the couple were only children.
Today we can hardly dispute some of the benefits of China’s one child policy. It has clearly been an effective way to slow down population growth in China, and the government continues to follow it. For all the reasons mentioned above, however, a question commonly raised in today’s context is how long this policy can remain in force. The answer seems to be a while longer. On the other hand, changes have already been introduced to loosen the restrictions of this policy. These changes have appeared only in certain areas or among certain groups, but they can be viewed as early attempts to gradually do away with this policy.