In the mid-twentieth century, the Chinese government believed that a large population would turn China into a strong nation. The people were encouraged to have large families. However, this resulted in a population increase of 55 million every three years.
With the massive population increase, the state realised that it might lead to famine as the food demand would exceed supply. To avoid a Malthusian disaster, the government decided to control the population growth by introducing the one-child policy. The limits each couple to bear only one child (with the exception of identical twins). In addition, the marriageable age for men was raised to 22, and for women to 20. This meant couples would bear a child later than it used to be. Couples who conformed were allowed free education for their child, priority housing and other benefits. On the other hand, those who did not were fined heavily.
Unfortunately after the policy was introduced, infanticide occurred. From tradition, male decedents were always preferred as they carry their family names from generation to generation. As couples were only allowed one child, girls were quite often abandoned, or even killed so they could have another chance of getting a boy. This occurred more often in rural areas, where there were less control from the government, and also where traditions held stronger.
The preference of getting a male child also meant a higher male to female ratio. As a result the population growth rate would decrease. Although it can be seen as a good thing and is the whole point of the policy, the fertility rate might lower to a point where reproduction occurred very rarely.
Another problem the Chinese government faced was that it was quite easy for couples to hide their child. Many people had more than one child without the government knowing. These children were not registered and could not receive any benefits which were available for all other children – not even medical care or education. Later in life, there would be difficulty in obtaining permission from the government to marry as they were not registered.
Having only one child per couple, parents could easily indulge their child. As a result, “little emperors were emerged”. It was also speculated that it would result in poor communication and cooperative skills amongst the younger generation due to the lack of siblings. Lastly, many people from the Western society criticised the policy as an assault on human rights. Women were often forced to abort the child if she already had one. Many people saw this as murder and violation in human right.
Despite all these problems, the one child policy did reduce the population and a “Malthusian disaster” was avoided. In 2007, China’s population was roughly 1.3 billion; it was predicted to be 25% higher if not for the one-child policy.
Population structure of China in 2000. The base of the pyramid is expected to be wider if the one-child policy was not in place.
The decrease in population growth rate seems to have a positive effect on economic growth. There was less demand on natural resources to support the needs of the population, which in turn reduced the strains on the natural environment. There was less unemployment due to labour surplus. The individual saving rate was increased since the introduction of the policy. This was due to less money being spent on children, and in turn allows people more money to invest. It is also reported that women received better health care services. The number of women who died from pregnancy and the infant mortality rate had decreased.
In conclusion, the one-child policy was not a perfect solution, but it was almost inevitable as China’s population was growing so fast that famine was bound to occur if it was not controlled. However, perhaps a more relaxed policy could have achieved the same results. I personally think that a two-child policy might have been better. It would stabilise the population, as well giving the people more freedom and possibly solve the problem of imbalance sex ratio.