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Policy Response to Low Fertility in China: Too Little, Too Late?

Courtesy of DurhamDundee/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This article was originally published by the East-West Center in April 2017.

Introduction

In 1970, Chinese women were having an average of nearly six children each. Only nine years later, this figure had dropped to an average of 2.7 children per woman. This steep fertility decline was achieved before the Chinese government introduced the infamous one-child policy. Today, at 1.5 children per woman, the fertility rate in China is one of the lowest in the world. Such a low fertility level leads to extreme population aging–expansion of the proportion of the elderly in a population, with relatively few children to grow up and care for their aging parents and few workers to pay for social services or drive economic growth. China’s birth-control policies are now largely relaxed, but new programs are needed to provide healthcare and support for the growing elderly population and to encourage young people to have children. It will be increasingly difficult to fund such programs, however, as China’s unprecedented pace of economic growth inevitably slows down.

China’s Fertility Decline

Most of China’s fertility decline took place in the 1970s, before the government launched its one-child policy in 1980 (see Figure 1). During the 1980s, fertility fluctuated, for the most part above the replacement level of 2.1 births per woman, which would maintain a constant population size. Then in the early 1990s, fertility declined to below-replacement level, and since then it has further declined to around 1.5 children per woman today. If very low birth rates persist, eventually the population starts to shrink, and it can shrink very quickly. Today’s low fertility could lead to a decline in China’s population by as many as 600 million people by the end of the 21st century.

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The Future of Political Demography and Its Impact on Policy

Arab Spring protests in Egypt. Image: AK Rockefeller/Flickr

This article was originally published by New Security Beat, the blog of the Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) at the Wilson Center.

“Political demography is a discipline whose time has come,” said Rob Odell of the National Intelligence Council at a gathering of demographers and researchers in New Orleans. “You can sense this inherent dissatisfaction” with a lot of analytical and predictive tools in international relations, he said, and “political demography provides policymakers a way to think about long-term trends.”

The study of population dynamics’ effects on political affairs, from the stability of states and conflict to regime types, economics, and state behavior, is relatively new. The International Studies Association (ISA), a professional group founded in 1959 with over 6,500 scholars and political scientists today, only added a sub-group for political demography in 2011. » More

Where Have All Japan’s Young People Gone?

Japanese student in a classroom. Image: ken19991210/Pixabay

This article was originally published by the East Asia Forum on 4 May, 2015.

The remarkable ageing of the populations in most advanced economies is no more evident or precipitate than in Japan. Earlier, Japan’s and other countries’ anti-natal policies encouraged a lowering of birth rates in an attempt to boost the chances of economic advancement.

In a decade or two, the impact of China’s one-child policy, and the subsequent low Chinese fertility rate, will also lead to a rapid decline in its population and acceleration of the ageing of its population. China may get old before it’s rich, as the popular aphorism now suggests, but most agree that while a reversal of the one-child policy may alleviate the decline in its fertility rate witnessed over the past several decades, that is hardly likely to entirely take the pressure off China’s coming demographic crunch. » More

China’s Cities Need More Babies, But One Child Policy Still Rules the Provinces

Painted image of chinese children on a space rocket. Image: wackystuff/Flickr

This article was originally published by The Conversation on 6 February, 2015.

After 35 years of consistently strict government control over family size, China’s so-called “one child policy” seems to be winding down – at least for some. Recent headlines quote the authorities in Shanghai going so far as to plead with their residents to “have more children”.

To the policy’s many critics, this is long overdue: China faces an ageing population, epitomised by the four grandparent, two parent, one child family, and couples all over the country are simultaneously looking after their child and two sets of elderly parents. » More

Peak Youth – Seizing the Moment

School kids smiling for the camera in Nakempte, Ethiopia. Image: Tim & Annette Gulick/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by IRIN on 25 November 2014.

We have accepted the concept “peak oil” – the point where oil production goes into an irreversible decline. Now we are being asked to contemplate that we are also rapidly approaching “peak youth”, when there will be more young people than ever before in the history of the planet, and when young people as a proportion of the population will reach a maximum, before starting to drop.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reckons there are already 1.8 billion people aged 10-24 in the world. In its annual report it presents them as a great force for accelerated development and a better quality of life, but only if the demographic changes going on can be harnessed for good. » More

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