In China, there are more than 1.3 billion people living, working and building families. Many Westerners imagine that traditional Chinese families are made up of multiple generations living under one roof. Until a century ago, this was a fairly accurate family portrait. But it’s no longer the norm.
These days, a typical Chinese family includes a married man and woman with one child, referred to as a core family. While there are sometimes modifications, including one or both sets of grandparents living with the family, the percentage of core families continues to rise above other types. This rise is no coincidence – it’s a direct reflection of the Chinese government’s population control policies.
The National Population and Family Planning Commission of China (NPFPC) is a state agency responsible for overseeing population control, reproductive health and family planning across China’s provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities. In this
regard, the agency crafts policy and legislation, organizes and coordinates publicity and education, and directs and supervises reproductive science and technologies. The NPFPC limits the number of children Chinese couples may have, commonly known as the one-child policy.
This policy has been in the news recently, after a deadly 8.0 magnitude earthquake hit the Sichuan province in May 2008, killing an estimated 10,000 children and leaving thousands more severely injured, disabled or orphaned [source: New York Times]. Because of China’s population control policies, most grieving families lost their only child. While the NPFPC is making policy exceptions for devastated families by allowing them to apply to have another child legally, such exceptions are rare.
Why would a country adopt such a policy? Let’s look at the one-child policy’s creation, its parameters and the criticisms against it.
Population and Family Planning in China
It’s estimated that there are currently more than 1.3 billion people in China and the population is growing at a rate of 0.6 percent – by the year 2050, the population is expected to peak around 1.6 billion [source: CNN]. The fertility rate, which is the mean number of children born to one woman, hovers around 1.7 – about 1.3 in urban areas and estimated just below 2.0 in rural areas. These numbers have dropped from the fertility rate of 2.9 children per woman thirty years ago and are significantly less than the average of six births per woman in 1970 [source: New England Journal of Medicine].
In comparison, other East Asian countries have seen fertility rates declining during the same time period. Japan and Singapore, for example, have some of the lowest fertility rates in the world, at 1.38 births per woman and 1.04 births per woman, respectively [source: New England Journal of Medicine]. Many European countries are also seeing birth rates decline and, in response, are doling out perks – typically tax breaks and cash – to encourage couples to increase the number of children they have.
The population reduction in China, though, is not accidental. During the 1970s, China began encouraging the ideas of “late, long, few” – voluntary family planning by delaying marriage, having fewer children and increasing the number of years between children. In 1979, the government introduced its one-child policy, an aggressive effort to improve standards of living and the economy through population control.