China’s one-child policy has become a dangerous liability for current—and future—political leaders. Why not get rid of it?
Last week, Zhao Baige, vice- minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, hinted that there might be changes afoot—after which she was quickly contradicted by her higher-ups.
The top brass worry that if they were to relax the policy—for example, by switching to a two-child policy—the ensuing flood of babies would overwhelm schools and hospitals, threatening the stability on which they have built their rule. Then there’s the loss of face, not to mention the fear of repercussions. How do you tell a mother who has been forcibly sterilized or who was forced to undergo an abortion that it was all a big mistake?
So, expect the government to trumpet the widely held view that economic growth of the past two decades correlates somehow with the one-child policy. Never mind that China’s abundant supply of labour has been the foundation of the country’s economic boom or that population has little to do with productivity.
The one-child policy threatens the very economic growth on which the party’s power depends. Wang Feng, a demographer at University of California, Irvine, estimates that in 10 years, the number of new entrants to the labour market will fall 25%; by 2050, he says, the number of people above 60 will more than double.
Then there’s the social impact of having so many children grow up without siblings, nieces and nephews, or aunts and uncles in a largely Confucian society where children are expected to care for their elders. Not to mention the fact that males already outnumber females by 106 to 100.
The great irony here is that thanks to China’s booming economy, women are starting to say they don’t want to have that many kids, anyway. With the demise of socialism, parents now bear the costs of raising and educating their children. An only child married to an only child is allowed to have two children, but a study of this demographic last year in Jiangsu province found more than half of these women preferred to have just one child, citing cost as their primary concern. Younger women were even more likely to opt for a single child, suggesting the trend towards low fertility will become more pronounced.
The Wall Street Journal
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