Thursday, April 7, 2011

China: One-Child Policy v. One-Child Preference

Great New York Times article about China's one-child policy, arguing that more Chinese are choosing to have only one child for economic reasons unrelated to the policy:
Under China’s family-planning regulations, most couples are barred from having more than one baby. Wang Hong and her husband, Zhang Jingfeng, are among those who were granted a second chance — and decided against it.

Instead, they have marshaled their resources behind their gregarious 9-year-old son, devoting two-fifths of their yearly income of 20,000 renminbi, or about $3,000, to send him to private school.

“I have to create good circumstances for him,” said Ms. Wang, 33, whose sparsely furnished home is heated by a wood stove. “If I had another child, what would our living circumstances be like?”

Ms. Wang’s reasoning underscores an argument voiced with growing insistency by demographers who want China to abandon its one-child restrictions: like the couple in Yicheng, they argue, most Chinese want only one child anyway.

* * *

But as calls for a relaxation of the policy intensify, and official hints of looser restrictions increase, so do concerns that the one-child culture is now so ingrained among Chinese that the authorities may not be able to encourage more births even if they try.

A growing body of research suggests that much of the decline in Chinese fertility over the past three decades is not a result of the one-child policy and its various permutations, but of the typical drop in birthrates that occurs as societies modernize.

* * *

The trend appears to be the same in Jiangsu, a coastal province north of Shanghai. Researchers interviewed nearly 4,400 women who were eligible to have two children. Fewer than one-third of the mothers with one child said they either wanted or might want a second, according to a 2009 study published by the journal Asian Population Studies.

In Shanghai, so many eligible couples have decided against a second child that in 2009, population workers started making home visits to try to change their minds. Cai Yong, a demographer at the University of North Carolina, said that Shanghai’s and Beijing’s fertility rates were both estimated at 0.7 per woman — fewer than one child per couple, and half what many demographers estimate is the national childbearing rate.

All this suggests that there may not be much China can do to manipulate the number of births.
I can testify that this is consistent with what my students and other faculty members at Xiamen University told me in 2007. They believed that the only road to financial prosperity was to limit their families to one child.  The one-child policy didn't come into it.  Of course, these were urbanites, and the answer might still be different in rural China.


Truly Blessed said...


The link doesn't work. Could you please repost it? Thanks!

malinda said...

OK, I tried again! Here's the link to cut and paste into your browser if the above link doesn't work:

travelmom and more said...

When I was in Kunming visiting schools, many of the teachers also echoed this belief. There was an element of patriotic duty, in that they knew it was good for China but there was more of a belief that only one child was good for their individual families. Again these were educated, city dwellers so the sentiment in the countryside might be different, however with the growing number of migrant workers there may be a shift among the working poor as well.

birthmothertalks said...

It appears that most families want boys and not girls thought. I wonder what is going to happen when China doesn't have any women in the country. If things don't change some is it possible for Chinese population to die off because no one can have more children?

Truly Blessed said...

Thanks for reposting the link, Malinda, it works now.

We are hosting a 16 year old foreign exchange student from Guangzhou China right now. He's an only child and has shared many, many stories about his upbringing and how hard his parents work to give him the best education possible (including a year in the US to perfect his English) because his parents and his grandparents are pinning ALL of their future on his success in school. His future has been laid out for him (not that he's entirely happy about it) but he will not complain and he won't let his family know that he doesn't really want to take over the family factory, but since that's the plan he'll do it.

He did mention that his parents often have said they would like a daughter, but they cannot have one for two reasons: 1) it's against the law and 2) it would cost too much money to educate a second child.

And, fwiw, we have six kids in the family and he is LOVING every minute of living here -- his plan is to come back next year and graduate from this American high school but I really think he wants to come back because he loves being a part of a big, noisy, fun American family! It's been an adventure for our family as well, living and sharing space with a "Little Emperor" of China!

malinda said...

birthmothertalks: Actually, some of that boy preference is going away in China today. Yes, it still exists, especially in rural areas. But in urban areas most parents will say they just want a healthy baby. Still there is a gener imbalance now, which has already led to all kinds of social problems.

Anonymous said...

the problem i have with this artcile iss that although it may be true families not prefer only one child it is still not their choice to decide.

Anonymous said...

Please delete my first post, I did not write it correctly!

The problem i have with this article is that although it may be true families are prefering only one child *it is still not their choice to decide*.

Wendy said...

I think articles such as this are also skewing reality. MANY people in China have more than one child, especially rural families. The weathly pay the fine and have more and the poor have more knowing there is nothing the govt. can really take from them. It is the rising middle and upper middle class that adhere to the policy either due to preference, nationalism, or the law.
Just because a child is not registered doesn't mean they don't exist.