This week, China announced it is ending the controversial One-Child policy and replacing it with a Two-Child policy. Almost four decades since its inception in 1979, it’s been long overdue. Apart from being a social travesty, China’s fertility rate is now 1.66 which is lower than even that of the US’s. A growing population is necessary to sustain economic growth, and this change is likely too late to save a slowing Chinese economy. What’s more interesting are the social effects of this policy change.
I am a product of China’s One-Child Policy. When my parents had me in 1993, they were ecstatic I was a boy, their one chance at passing down the family name and their ticket to a prosperous retirement. It’s crazy to think they had only one shot to do it right. Their future was immaculately placed in the life of one baby along with all their hopes and ambitions. And this was probably how they planned it to be-have one child and invest everything into raising it.
The consequences of this situation are not trivial. Having less children increases the resources that child gets. In the US, we’re used to viewing children as a consumption good that brings us happiness. Naturally, we want their lives to be of high quality and having children for the sake of quantity is an afterthought. In China, the culture has always been to have a lot of children who would one day support you. This has changed markedly in the last few decades due to rapid economic development, but also partly because of this policy.
The One-Child policy made China society more educated. My parents invested a lot of money into making sure I got a great education, along with experiences, material goods, and emotional support. It costs 414,000 RMB ($67,410) to raise a child to 18 years old in China, which is 43% of the average household income in China. It’s not certain they could have raised two children at the same time without sacrificing the quality of one or both children’s lives.
In some ways, I have the One-Child policy to thank for the life I lived. On the other hand, I could have had a sibling who would have added great value to my life. Seven years later, my family moved to the US and had my sister. They certainly wanted more than one child and were ecstatic at having a boy and a girl. What would have our family been like without the policy? I can ponder, but the fact is that 400 million children were not born as a result of this policy, and it’s very possible one of them could have been my brother or sister.
It’s not worth delving into the what-ifs of life, but it is interesting to look at the now. What shape will Chinese society take following this change? How long will it be before China starts encouraging having more children? Will Chinese culture shift westward? Time will tell, but one things for sure, whatever social changes take hold in China will have a drastic impact on the world, and we should watch closely.
Rock on kid. The future is still bright.