Effects of the One Child Policy

26 Apr

In the 1970’s, following the drastic population increase that occurred in China from the 1950’s onwards, the Chinese Government introduced policies to reduce the fertility rates. During the decade the Government encouraged marriage later in life, longer gaps between the births of children and fewer children born into each family, a set of policies known as wanxi shao (later, longer and fewer). These measures however did little to show a dramatic decrease in the fertility rates within the country and so, in 1979, the One Child Policy was introduced. The policy restricted couples living in urban areas to have only one child.



In 2007 Zhang Weiqing, minister in charge of the National Population and Family Planning Commission stated that “because China has worked hard over the last 30 years, we have 400 million fewer people”. The birth of these 400 million people would have had profound social and economic effects on the country, and may have significantly reduced the level of economic growth that has occurred in China. A report by the UN in 2010 on world contraceptive use has shown that China has one of the highest contraceptive prevalence rates in the world at 84.6 [this prevalence rate is significantly higher than many developed countries, including the UK and the USA].


However, although China may have prevented the birth of up to 400 million people, and the resultant added social and economic strains, the One Child Policy has come at a heavy price.  Amartya Sen, a highly influential Indian Economist and Philosopher, argues that coercive birth control policies are ‘unacceptable because they deny a basic human freedom and because they generate harmful side-effects’. He states that the One Child Policy has in particular increased son preference. A report by the World Bank has shown that between 1980 and 2000 there were 22 million more boys than girls born in the country. Not only will this have significant effects on future levels of marriage and fertility, it has also been argued in popular media that this has led to a ‘geopolitical time bomb’. An increased number of males, it is argued, will destabilise China via increased levels of crime, as most violent crimes are committed by young men, and may lead to China adopting a more aggressive stance in World Politics.

The Policy has also led to a skewed population within the country, with an aging population becoming more and more apparent. Aging populations have significant social and economic effects on countries, and with China’s fertility rate being predicted to be as low as 1.5 [a 2.1 fertility rate is needed in China in order for sustainability] the long term effects of the One-Child policy are likely to have detrimental effects, both socially, politically and economically on the future of China.



The introduction of the policy has, as Amartya Sen argued, also led to restrictions on Human Rights. Not only has the right to choose whether or not to reproduce been removed from men and women, in many cases there have been reports of forced abortions and sterilisations of women. In June 2012 the world was shocked and appalled by images released of a woman lying next to the foetus she had been forced to abort under the one-child policy. The mother, Feng Jianmei, had been seven months’ pregnant. In 2011 a woman died on an operating table after being forced into an abortion at 6 months. Such incidences have been reported across China since the introduction of the policy, and have led to international critique over the extreme measures used by Chinese officials to keep the fertility rate low.

The policy has often been critiqued due to the extreme nature of the policy. Although the Government did, throughout the 1970’s, support a number of fertility reducing schemes, the introduction of the One-Child Policy was done so without much concern for other, less controversial methods. Sen argues that low fertility regimes can be achieved by improving the position of women, as has been proven in the southern Indian States of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and therefore the birth control policy found in China, which does little to improve the position of women within society can be argued to be a dramatic action- the Chinese Government did little to improve the status of women before enforcing a law that would reduce women’s rights.

With concerns over China’s aging population, the ‘geopolitical time bomb’ of an increased male population, and international concern over the infringement of Human rights, how long can the Chinese Government realistically hope to retain the One-Child Policy?







China’s One Child Policy Impact Analysed: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-20976432


Arrests over China’s baby death in one-child policy row: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-21359962


United Nations World Contraceptive Use: http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/wcu2010/Main.html


Chinese Abortion Death due to Birth Quote Enforcement, Family Claims: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/oct/21/chinese-abortion-death-birth-quota-claims


Has China’s one child policy worked?: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7000931.stm


Ebenstein, A and Sharygin, E (n.d.) “The Consequences of the ‘Missing Girls’ in China” World Bank [online] source: https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/4508/wber_23_3_399.pdf?sequence=1


Corbridge, Stuart (2002) “Development as Freedom: The Spaces of Amartya Sen”

Progress in Development Studies 2(3):183-217 


5 Responses to “Effects of the One Child Policy”

  1. samhemming April 28, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    The idea that a high number of men will cause an increasingly aggressive political stance in the world is interesting. Politics in China is still, as with most of the world, concentrated in men’s hands. An increasing proportion of men will not affect the continuity of male political control. It is also odd to see a modern government launching a war to deal with a surplus of males.
    But there will no doubt be other social effects such as the increase in violent crime already mentioned.


  2. cw12g11 April 28, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

    When assessing the salience of China’s One Child Policy, mandated in 1979, one must examine the legacy that this contentious policy continues to leave. China was the first state to have mandated this ‘fertility transition’ in 1979, setting the precedent for what is a highly controversial subject. Boden identifies that this policy goes against human nature, preventing the right to life. What it shows clearly is the power the central government exercises within this huge state. If this policy was not obeyed women would be forced to pay fines, face aborting a second child or sterilisation etc. A lasting effect of this policy is the ‘One Two Four Problem’ – whereby one child looks after both of his parents as well as his four grandparents. Consequently, this has led to selective abortions, child murder and the abandonment of young children.

    But why was this policy created? The obvious answer is that the establishment of this policy was to reduce the population of this fast growing nation. Yet, alternatively we can also see how this policy was created as a prerequisite for economic development and thereby for the success of China’s industrialisation according to Milwertz. Initially, Mao wanted a larger population to facilitate a stronger China, hence the rapid population increase prior to 1979. However, population control was later viewed as essential in the midst of China’s modernisation. Simply, if the population was too large, there would not be enough food, resources etc for everyone. Meanwhile, Vanessa Fong ascertains this policy to be a way of creating a generation of ambitious, well educated children who would be able to lead their country into the First World. While the strategy has succeeded, it has been at a price as we have already discussed with the high pressure placed on these young children as well as ageing population etc. Now well and truly a First World Nation we will have to sit and wait as Xi Jingping’s Government tackle these population issues.

    Boden, Jeanne. (2008) The Wall Behind China’s Open Door. Brussels: Academic and Scientific Publishers.

    Milwertz, Cecilia Nathansen. (1997) Accepting Population Control: Urban Chinese Women and the One Child Policy. Surrey: Curzon Press.

    Fong, Vanessa. (2004) Only Hope: Coming of Age Under China’s One Child Policy. California: Stanford University Press.

  3. iyh1g10 May 10, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    Besides the fact that there is the emerging old-age population dilemma and an increase in violent crime, as mentioned above, there are at present a million “shidu” families. “Shidu” being a term that describes parents that have lost their only child. The number of such tragic cases increases by approximately 76,000 each year and has become an issue in the last decade as the first generation of parents affected by the one-child policy have grown too old to have children. Although China’s population and family planning law, enacted in 2002, stipulated that “necessary assistance” will be provided to families whose only child was accidentally injured or killed, should the parents no adopt or give birth to another, the government has failed to specify the “necessary” sum nor clarify its role in such compensation cases. Looking at the political system in China, the central and local governments manage separate finances. Hence, seeing that the central government did not define its responsibilities to shidu families, childless parents suffer at the local government’s whims which appear to usually be based on their financial resources rather than the family’s actual needs.

    Social media platforms and Internet forums such as “Home for the Shidu” and “Benefit in China” have been formed to provide online communities for Shidu parents on Yahoo China and other online communities. Cases such as that of the recent Boston Marathon bombings which involved a Chinese graduate student, Lu, have further thrust this issue under the spotlight.

    Another tragedy was that involving Jiang, to whom the local government paid nothing following her daughter’s death. Despite the central government having issued another directive in 2007, drawing the floor for such compensation at $16 per person per month, the local family planning office didn’t send Jiang her deserved compensation until 2010. whose only child “I was never afraid of any difficulties because we had a child and she was our hope” Jiang, shows the detrimental effect the policy has on single child parents. Albeit it being true that the government’s prosperity reliant on reining in population growth, to have one child is like having a single bet. A depressing underline is as highlighted by Yi, a University of Wisconsin scientist and author in , the China’s family planning restrictions may have allowed the country to prosper but the damage to individuals is sacrificial. “Parents will lose hope and when they get old, nobody will take care of them. Because every kid is exposed to deadly risks, every one-child family is walking a tightrope.”

    I found these articles deeply saddening yet they raise a valid point in that, it seems almost unfair that although the one-child policy has helped economic prosperity, the citizens do not receive proper compensation. In some respect, the situation can be seen as similar to families of deceased soldiers, yet Chinese society treats these two groups of families very differently: Families of slain veterans have access to benefits like shopping discounts and priority in applying for government-subsidized housing, both virtually unavailable for shidu families. A weak pension system means losing an only child takes a devastating financial effect. Following the devastating Sichuan earthquake, an exception to the one-child policy was issued by the government, concerning parents of those who were killed or faced serious injuries or disabilities. In my opinion, from this it can be seen that some measures have been taken but what about those who have lost their children in accidents and are too old to conceive? The regime needs to evolve rapidly enough to support such individuals.

    Peng and Song, who in the past have both helped shape China’s family-planning policy take opposing stances on the one-child policy. Peng believing it should be relaxed one-child policy has shrunk China’s pool of labor, hurting economic growth which it had previously been implemented to aid. Song on the other hand argues that China still has limited resources. It is interesting to note that retired senior officials in China have been known to retain influence on highly sensitive political matters and both of them have recently submitted letters containing contrasting views to top officials in the new government. Should the one-child policy be relaxed, this could help reduce the issue of potential shidu parents in the future however it does not ignore the fact that there are currently shidu parents in great need of well-deserved compensation.


    China’s one-child policy could change if battling opinions reconcile.

    Grieving Chinese reach out after their 1 allowed child dies. http://news.msn.com/world/grieving-chinese-reach-out-after-their-1-allowed-child-dies

    In China, the Shared Grief of Losing a Single Child like Lu Lingzi. http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/21/in-china-the-shared-grief-of-losing-a-single-child-like-lu-lingzi/

    Shidu. When Chinese Parents Forced to Have One Child Lose That Child. http://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/05/shidu-when-chinese-parents-forced-to-have-one-child-lose-that-child/275691/

  4. ab25g11 May 13, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    Is this the beginning of the end for One Child Policy?

    Recent government changes announced at the National People’s Congress in March could have a significant impact on the officials responsible for enforcing the one child policy. The reorganisation will merge the family-planning administration solely responsible for population control, with the health ministry to form a new Health and Family Planning Commission.

    This comes as public scrutiny increases, much of the population want the policy to be relaxed or completely withdrawn. Especially as media coverage on the social and economic implications of the policy continually increases across the country’s television networks and online media, fuelling civil unrest.

    Many demographers increasingly argue for the policy to be relaxed to two children per family. Surveys show social aspirations have changed for many and even if the policy changed couples would often continue to have only one child. Exceptions are already being made for rural families and couples anywhere in China where both are single children. However many leaders remain hesitant to completely alter the policy, despite the growing detrimental consequences to the population structure as well as the future economic and social stability of the country. Politicians are fearful any significant changes would only result in sudden population increases which would pose a greater risk to the continued economic growth of China.


  1. One Child Policy: Bane or Boon? | China Business Knowledge @ CUHK - May 27, 2013

    […] Effects of the One Child Policy (uosm2018.wordpress.com) […]

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