NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 6, 2010

China's one-child policies are extremely unpopular -- undoubtedly the most loathed in China -- and make almost no sense.  True, birth rates were too high in the early days of the People's Republic.  Mao Zedong generally believed there should be as many Chinese in the world as possible.  The pro-growth attitude meant that at one point (1970) there were 5.9 births per female.  The rate, of course, was unsustainable, and Beijing's technocrats adopted a mostly voluntary "late, long, few" program to limit population growth, says Forbes Magazine. 

The population program worked: 

  • Birth rates plummeted, yet Mao's successor, Deng Xiaoping, instituted the one-child policy in 1979 as one of his first initiatives after assuming power.
  • During the existence of the coercive program China's birth rate declined from 2.9 births per female to around 1.6 or 1.7 today, figures well below the replacement rate of 2.1.  

Chinese leaders congratulate themselves for preventing up to 300 million births.  Yet the program, which remains in effect, has inevitably created demographic abnormalities that cannot be remedied for decades.  It has resulted in the world's most abnormal sex ratios, says Forbes: 

  • The 2005 "mini-census" reported that the sex ratio at birth, expressed as the number of boys per 100 girls, was 119 -- when the global average was somewhere between 103 to 106.
  • Some provinces had ratios exceeding 130.
  • The ratio for second children may be as high as 146.  

In the under-20 age group, there are 32 million excess males in China today.  This imbalance, partially the product of "gendercide," has already resulted in increased prostitution, elevated HIV-infection rates and renewed trafficking in females.  The Chinese demand for females is so great that they are being abducted in North Korea, Burma and Vietnam and transported to China, says Forbes. 

At this point we don't fully understand the other implications of the skewed ratio.  The absence of historical parallels has naturally given rise to many theories regarding China's future, says Forbes. 

Source: Gordon G. Chang, "Beijing's Plan for National Decline," Forbes, April 22, 2010. 

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