Modern Family: New Legislation to Allow More than One Child per Family in China

History has been made this week regarding one of the most controversial pieces of legislation to ever pass through a government.  On Thursday, October 28th, the Chinese government announced that it has decided to end its one-child policy; henceforth allowing couples to have two children.

The one-child policy was enacted in 1979 in an attempt to curtail the population growth of China.  However, the policy created even more of a humanitarian issue than it solved.  Under this policy, the Communist Party of China enforced its policy with families and their children in multiple ways.  If a couple was found to have had more than one child, fines could be levied upon them and job loss could ensue.  Possibly the most shocking ramification for having (or conceiving) an additional child was a forced abortion.  Even worse, however, was the proliferation of female infanticide that resulted from the policy: the killing of female babies due to their perceived low economic and productive value.

Before Thursday’s announcement the Chinese government had already taken steps to curtail female infanticide, such as allowing some families to have two children if the first one born was a girl.  In addition, ethnic minorities and families wherein one parent was a single child were also allowed to have two children.  Now however, it appears that this option will be open to all.

Two Graphs: The first showing China's population growth and growth projection since 1950, the second showing age percentages and projections since 1950. (Economy Watch)
Two Graphs: The first showing China’s population growth and growth projection since 1950, the second showing age percentages and projections since 1950. (Economy Watch)

Such an important decision, however, begs the question: why?  To start, it is estimated that 30% of China’s population is over 50 years old, which would only become a larger percentage as more time passed with birth regulation.  A change in legislation was most likely decided due to a realization that with this policy in place the amount of working age citizens would, and has already, started to dwindle.  In order to prevent a decrease in industrial productivity, the only option was to reverse the legislation in order to increase the working population.  The need for such a change is seen once working age population is analyzed.

Last year alone the working age population fell by 3.7 million which, for perspective, is a little more than 1% of the entire United States population.  A look at population pyramids from 1950 to the present shows a drastic change in age structure.  In the 1950s the pyramid was actually a pyramid.  Once the age restriction came into play, the pyramid fattened up and the base actually narrowed compared to the center, a visual representation the fact that a larger percentage of society was aging than being born, resulting in an aging population.

This change in legislation, however, has also created worry that we have yet to witness the lasting damage that a policy with such severe ramifications for so many years has created.  The main concern is that, although families are now allowed to have more than one child, having one child has become the social norm, thus making it less likely that families will actually start to have two children instead of one.

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