This article was originally published by the East-West Center in April 2017.
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.
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
Image: Anders Sandberg/Flickr
This article was originally published on 11 August 2014 by New Security Beat, the blog of the Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) at the Wilson Center.
Since the end of World War II, a number of the world’s most dramatic political events have resulted from demographic shifts and government reaction to them. Despite this, political demography remains a neglected topic of scholarly investigation. » More
Kashmiri women watching a rally in Srinagar, courtesy of Kashmir Global/flickr
This article was originally published April 23 2014 by New Security Beat, the blog of the Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) at the Wilson Center.
The emerging subfield of “security demographics” is interested in how demographic trends, such as youth bulges, high or low fertility rates, and sex ratios affect the security and stability of nation-states and regions. In our research, Andrea Den Boer and I have attempted to show that abnormally high sex ratios – situations where there are significantly more men than women – have been a security concern in the past and may affect security and stability in the future.
Poster promoting the one-child policy, from Zhongdian, China. Image: Flickr.
In an attempt to mitigate a near-certain demographic future of rapid aging, shrinking labor force and critical gender imbalance, the Chinese government has adjusted its one-child policy. The decision demonstrates that, irrespective of a nation’s politico-economic system, governments cannot avoid demography’s juggernaut consequences. This mid-course correction in population policy will have marginal effect as China is aging at a much faster pace than occurred in other countries. This, along with a shrinking workforce and critical gender imbalance, will increasingly tax the government.
The new policy, set at the provincial level, will permit couples to have two children if either the husband or wife is an only child. Under the previous policy, two children were allowed for ethnic minorities, rural families whose firstborn is a daughter, and couples with both spouses as only children.
China instituted its one-child policy in the late 1970s because it feared that its rapidly growing population placed an untenable burden on economic growth and improving standards of living. At the start of the 1970s, China’s fertility rate was above five children per couple and its population was growing at more than 2 percent per year, adding more than 20 million Chinese annually. If the demographic growth of the 1970s had persisted, China would perhaps have added 400 million people more to its current population of 1.39 billion. » More