30 October 2015

Is 2 too little, too late?


Yesterday China announced that it was renouncing its one child policy for good, and allowing all couples to have two children. The move was spurred by China’s drastically shrinking working-age population but demographers fear the policy change won’t have the desired effect as the initial policy that was introduced to slow China’s population growth in the 70’s has worked too well.

Here are the top articles to read on the issue.

1. The original birth-rate control policy, one child per coupleTime

In the 1970s, many countries around the world were worried about population growth, but China, with its combination of a particularly large population and a powerful government, took an extreme approach to the problem. The country initially ran a successful birth control campaign under the slogan “Late, Long and Few,” which cut population growth by half between 1970 and 1976.”

It is worth remembering that at the time, the policy was hailed as a success: “The family-planning program, coupled with market reforms launched around the same time, is credited with catalyzing China’s modern transformation. With fewer bellies to feed, the government turned a hand-to-mouth society into the world’s second largest economy.”

2. Scrapping the one child policy is a meaningless moveCityAm

Danae Kyriakopoulou, an economist at the Centre for Economics and Business Research noted that

demographic policy takes a long time to exhibit results and has a lasting impact. Similarly, yesterday’s decision will take a very long while to turn things around. The share of the working-age population has already peaked. China’s baby boomer generation is now in its 30s, and its youth population will keep declining until 2050

3.  The most extreme example of state intervention in human reproduction in the modern era?New York Times

NYT makes the comment that this is yet another example of economic fears being pinned on the population size : the initial policy was deemed necessary by Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader in the late 1970s to ensure that “the fruits of economic growth are not devoured by population growth.” Now, fears that an aging population could jeopardize China’s economic ascent have caused the CPC to reverse this decision.

“President Xi Jinping sought to display his control over a flagging economy after a jittery summer of tepid indicators, deepening skepticism about official data and a tumultuous slide in the stock market”. The controls continue to be “a triumphant demonstration of the party’s capacity to reshape even the most intimate dimensions of citizens’ lives.”

4. The impact of loosening the birth restrictions on China’s looming labor crisis isn’t clearWall Street Journal

The last easing resulted in 1.45 million new birth applications, according to China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission. The number was far lower than experts expected.

China’s working-age population–those aged 15 to 64–is drastically shrinking. The United Nations projects that China will lose 67 million workers from 2010 to 2030

5. A good thing for China’s “black” children*Quartz

They include a nice graph to show the difference in China’s dependency ratio (those typically not in the labor force (the dependent part, including children and the elderly) and those typically in the labor force) compared to other countries (as well as two continents) and makes a few positive points about the impact of the ability to have a second child. Even if couples don’t act on the new freedom, a smaller gender gap is likely to ensue as the one child policy is “believed to be at least partly responsible for over 500 million sterilizations and abortions (paywall), many of them forced, as well as parents having second children in secret

*births – usually rural girls – that are unregistered so that their parents can avoid crippling fines and try again for a son.

The official official announcement in the state-run news agency, Xinhuanet can be found here.

Olivia Archdeacon is Assistant Editor at CapX