China Now Has the Lowest Fertility Rate in the World
China began relaxing the one-child policy in November 2013 for some couples (in which one member was an only child). Given the tepid response, the policy was fully relaxed on January 1, 2016, and now everyone in China is allowed to have two children. But many are not interested and the response has been lackluster, despite an initial burst of built up demand. China now has the lowest fertility rate in the world—1.05 according to China’s 2016 State Statistical Bureau data and reported by Liang Jianzhang and Huang Wenzheng in a recent Caixin article. Liang, the CEO of C-Trip, has been an ardent advocate of policy change. China has been in “below replacement fertility” (under 2.1 births per woman) since about 1990 and there is little hope of reversing this. The new normal, after thirty-five years of non-stop propaganda and exhortations to control births, is that one is enough and for some, even that is too many. The desire for large numbers of children had already begun to change before the policy was implemented, but thirty years of constant reminders about China’s population problem and restrictions on births created a new norm. Most urban youth are only children and that feels normal. Rural youth migrate to the cities for jobs and when they do marry and give birth, leave the child behind with elderly parents in their home villages since hukou (registered residency) entitlements for schooling and health care are not portable and the costs of housing, schooling, and education in the cities are prohibitive. Most do not want more children and the policy change can best be described as too little, too late.
Restrictions and bureaucratic procedures remain for couples desiring more than two children. These, too, should be lifted immediately and reproductive freedom returned to China’s population, which will be shrinking in size in any case. The one-child policy and its associated abuses and cumbersome bureaucratic procedures may go down in history as the policy that was not needed and that intruded upon and defined the personal lives of a fifth of humanity between 1980 and 2015.
This first appeared on CFR website here.
Image Credit: Creative Commons.