Has China’s One-Child Policy worked?

12 Mar

To answer any question we need to understand the different parts of said question. 

In regards to the ‘One Child Policy’ segment of the question, we need to examine what was implemented. The National Planned Parenthood Conference in 1979 urged the government “to encourage the couple to have only one child if possible, two at the most with a period of 3 years between”. The population statistics were getting out of hand for the Chinese government at that time.

Hua Kuo-feng stated in his report to Congress that “family planning is a very significant matter. Planned control of population growth is conductive to the planned development of the national economy.” In the same year the general liberalization and relaxation of central control was implemented in order to encourage economic growth (Rajan, 1994).

‘Has it worked?’

Again, here it is very important to examine what we see as a success. If we are just looking for a control of the total amount of people in China, the statistics are clear: the population of China is higher now than in 1979. Does this mean the policy failed?

The difference here is that although the population may have grown since the introduction of this policy, it may have slowed the growth rate. The plan was to control the population for economic reasons.

Let’s look at the world’s population growth rate:


We see that the growth rate in an uncontrolled state is a natural one. This looks very similar to the exponential growth rate. As time goes on, medicine improves, more people can have more children, who are going to receive even better medical treatment and so on. There is an obvious trend of growth.

We have a record of China’s population change from 1960 and it looks like this:


This is not a natural growth rate. It is definitely growing but the rate of the growth is slowing. The line is becoming concave. What does this mean? The government succeeded in controlling the growth; they lowered it.  Meanwhile, GDP per capita has also grown. The Chinese governmentinitially proposed that their intent was to control the birth rate as part ofthe overallplan to improve the economy.  It is difficult to suggest that the control of the birth rate was a major factor in China’s GDP growth but children are expensive not only for parents but for the respective government. This could be the actual motive of the Chinese government whilst veiled behind the cleverly phrased: “planned development of the economy.”

If this is a success, why not share the policy and implementation policies with others in similar situations. China is the first country to control the birth rate, other countries like the Philippines, Pakistan and the whole of sub-Saharan Africa are currently facing similar growth rates in population that China faced in the 60s and 70s couldlearn from them. This is where the policy could be used as a base for future policies required in keeping a country’s population under control. China has led the way and could play an important role in future policies. (Potts, 2006).

Inevitable Impacts

Regardless of the policy’s success, there are many implications. Imagine the scenario: a couple in 1979 choose to have only one child due to the government’s call. This child grows up and marries another single child. This couple has a single child. Now, in 2014, this second-generation only child could have four grandparents and two parents to support. Traditionally, elderly Chinese live with and cared for by their children. This is a problem.

The retirement age for men is officially 60 and for women: 50. These numbers have not been altered since 1951 when the life expectancy was 46. Compare this with today’s life expectancy of around 73 years of age and it might become clearer as to why this could be detrimental in heralding the one child policy as a success.

By 2050, it is estimated that around 26% of the Chinese population will be above the age of 65 (Bailey et al., 2012). At that time the number of people exiting the Labour Force will exceed the number of the people joining (the number of people retiring will be more than those becoming a working adult). How will this affect the Chinese economy? At this point it is hard to tell, but one thing is for certain the “planned development of the economy” may have only been a vision over the following 50 years, and those in charge clearly had not taken too much care over the people behind the growth. Obviously an ageing population is an issue we face here in the UK, but the difference is the cultural expectance placed on the children to provide shelter and care for their elderly relatives.

Another important issue that has been highlighted by the one child policy is the ratio of gender in newly born babies in China. Before 1980 the number of males per 100 females born was within the normal and expected range. From then on, the number has risen and risen to 120 males born per 100 females born. Those who have a female child and then choose to have a second child often see a Sex Ratio at Birth of up to 191.3 according to the 2000 census (Anon., 2006).

A greater number of males than females can be the cause of many social issues. Bachelors will remain bachelors their entire lives. There is an increased ‘demand’ for females. This has led to gruesome criminal activity of kidnapping and then being sold as wives (Branigan, 2011).


China’s plan to strongly encourage one child per couple has reduced the population growth rate. The goal that was set out has been achieved; lower birth rate, higher economic growth. The country now faces multiple backlashes to the actions taken by the millions of couples over the past thirty-five years. With a large proportion of the country’s population edging ever closer to retirement, it will fall upon the shoulders of the generation of only-children to bear the burden of caring for those who built the foundations for the transformation of an entire country.

Word count: 1018.


Anon., 2006. Gender Gaps in China: Facts and Figures. [Online] Available at: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTEAPREGTOPGENDER/Resources/Gender-Gaps-Figures&Facts.pdf [Accessed 9 March 2014].

Bailey, D., Ruddy, M. & Shchukina, 2012. Ageing China: Changes and challenges. [Online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-19630110 [Accessed 9 March 2014].

Branigan, T., 2011. China’s village of the bachelors. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/sep/02/china-village-of-bachelors [Accessed 9 March 2014].

Potts, M., 2006. China’s one child policy. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 333(7564), pp.361-62.

Rajan, S.I., 1994. China’s One-Child Policy: Implication for Population Aging. Economic and Political Weekly, 29(38), pp.2502-06.


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