• Isabelle Roach

One Child Policy: The Black Hole in China's Demographic


In the United States, there have been about 75 million surgeries and insertions to prevent and terminate conception since 1973. Before the early 1980’s, the Chinese population would hardly have expected to see more than 935 million of the same documented - in the equivalent timeframe.

This past October marks the end of arguably the most controversial rule in Chinese politics since the birth of its empire. Late this past month after a four-day Communist Party summit, it was discussed at length the necessary measures necessary to maintain China’s economic growth – one of which was the update of this policy.

China’s renowned “one-child policy” decreed that to each family there could only be born one child, with the exceptions being scarce, and mostly dependent on multiple births (twins, for example), or the number of parents and grandparents that a single child would have to support as they aged. Nevertheless, the general policy was strictly enforced; no more than one child was permitted. Routine visits to married couples ensured no additional pregnancies were in the works.

The consequence that China faces now is a gaping hole in their population. Officials claim that the one-child policy prevented approximately 400 million births; a positive contribution to the economic boom, as the population was adequately sustained in terms of resources and provided with a strong population of workers. The policy was practical at the time of its instigation, but is now in the simple process of backfiring. For a number or reasons, Chinese demographics are now drastically skewed in all the wrong directions.

One factors is that a disquieting number of sex-selective abortions have taken place since the introduction of the policy. Male children are seen as more practical for supporting the upper ranks of a family as they age; an argument that we in Canada -- safely protected by the freedom of bearing any number of children -- might find shocking but which we are in no position to judge. There have also been a substantial number of infanticides of female children (though infanticide was in no way exclusive to females), not to mention the forced sterilisation of women who grew to be pregnant a second time.

The effect of gender-related terminations, infanticides and general sterilizations has led to a much smaller number of female births, the meaning of which is that China is facing a significant gender imbalance – to be precise, it is missing a sizeable 30 million females. That’s 30 million less child-bearers, wives and female members of the work force that will only worsen the demographic impact of the policy as time goes on.

Another significant issue faced by the population is the rapidly increasing number of older citizens. These are the members of society born during the Chinese population boom in the 40’s and 50’s, previous to the introduction of the one-child policy. Unable to work and consequently having a limited ability to be self-sufficient, the rapidly ageing population in China is now depending on their children and grandchildren for economic support. This was coined the “4-2-1 problem”: four grandparents are relying on their two children, their single child and the child’s spouse, and as those children age they will rely heavily on the one child of the two aforementioned children. The massive older population is not only creating a hole in the work force, which is set to become greatly diminished, but also funnelling the dependence of up to six people on the shoulders of a sole child.

Having recognized the demographic time-bomb that their country is facing, China has now rescinded the one-child policy and is allowing two children per couple, with similar cases for exceptions. After decades of excessive control on births, this is a welcome change for Chinese citizens who wish to have a larger family, and all can hope that is it a step in the right direction for sustaining the country as a whole.