By: Emily Moran
A few weeks ago, the Chinese government announced that it is terminating its infamous one-child policy in favor of a new law allowing families to raise up to two children. The notorious policy was abandoned over worries of an increasingly aging and declining population and growing concerns over a labor shortage. The Washington Post reports that, “The nation’s fertility rate…is far below that of the United States and many other nations in the developed world, leading to a rapidly graying society and increasing demands on the state, such as social programs and health care for the elderly.” The question is, how long will it take to reverse the harmful effects that the one-child policy has had on Chinese society? What does this mean for China’s future?
For many the decision to reverse the policy is cause for celebration and the reason has nothing to do with addressing the problem of a shrinking workforce. It has more to do with the cultural effects that the policy has had. Since the policy’s implementation in 1980, the country has dealt with the issue of a skewed gender ratio. Due to the nature of a patriarchal society that values men over women, there has been a stronger preference for male children. Due to the limit on how many children one could have, many families found themselves doing whatever they could in order to have a son. For some, this meant sex-selective abortions, in which the mother got an ultrasound to identity the baby’s sex and aborted it if it was female. For others (especially in rural parts of China), this meant killing the baby if it was born a girl. This disturbing trend sparked numerous debates on human rights issues behind the one-child policy and the infanticide that it had invariably caused. The one-child policy was also scrutinized for the harsh punishments on couples that broke its rules. If a family was found to have more than one child it could be subject to steep fines and harassment, forced abortions, or sterilization. Not only has the policy been problematic in terms of causing numerous demographic issues, but heavily criticized for its violation of human rights.
Will the increase from one to two children help fix the extremely unbalanced sex ratio in China? For some, the move might be too little, too late. Many believe that this change is unlikely to result in a “baby boom.” According to The Washington Post, this policy change won’t ease demographic pressures for decades. The New York Times also reported that, while the news comes as a pleasant surprise for much of Chinese society, many families are deciding against having a second child due to existing cultural stigmas and the future financial burden.
While it is certainly a good thing that the one-child policy has been abolished, it might not be enough to fix the issues that the Chinese government is concerned about. It is a change that should have occurred long ago, and the impact that the policy has had on Chinese demographic trends is too great to be fixed in just a few short years. The move away from the policy will probably not have the effect that policymakers in China were hoping for, at least not for a few decades.