By Sunny Yuran Pei
| In 1980, China started to implement a one-child policy to control population growth. This policy advocates healthier pregnancies, later marriage, and delayed childbirth. According to statistics, this policy averted at least 400 million births from 1980 to 2010.
As a national policy, the one-child policy has changed over the past few decades. In 2007, the one-child policy loosened its requirement. Only 40% urban couples were subjected to the one-child policy. 56% rural couples with one girl were allowed to have a second child. 4% minority (Non-Han) farmers in Xinjiang and Qingdao could have 3 children. In 2013, the policy relaxed further. In the majority of provinces, if the each partner in a couple are both only children in their family, they are allowed to have two children. In 2015, the policy loosened further and permits couples of whom if either one of the pair is an only child in their family, they are allowed to have two children.
Why did the Chinese government loosen their one-child policy? How does the one-child policy happiness levels in China? In the past few years, the one-child policy had led to a few problems – population aging, the “four-two-one” phenomenon, and “empty nesters.”
The one-child policy has restrained China’s sustainable development by lowering the nation’s work force. China’s population as a whole is rapidly getting older. As the one-child policy led to an extremely low fertility rate (1.18), it caused a disproportionate gap between age groups—heavily favoring the older population. In 1970, only 5% of the population was over 65; while today, over 10% people are over 65. The generation of baby boomers (Chinese born between 1950 to 1960) has started to become elderly at ages 55+. One report shows that China will become the world’s most aged society in 2030. Because the elderly are generally less economically productive than younger people, population aging will likely slow down China’s economic growth. In the past few years, population aging has decreased the Chinese labor force and has threatened labor-intensive industries. In the short term, increasing the education and skill levels of Chinese workers could improve economic productivity and potentially compensate for the decline in the amount of working-aged people.
However, the one-child policy also puts heavy pressure on social welfare. This is because if an only child is unable to care for their parents, their parents might run the risk of having no social safety net or monetary resources to take care of themselves. Statistics show that nearly 23 percent of the older people in China cannot fully take care of themselves. Population aging has led to an increased demand for health care expenditures and elder service. Sociologists warn that in 10-15 years the burden of providing elderly care could be the biggest problem for smaller families. To reduce this population-aging problem, China has raised the legal age of retirement, from 55 to 60. Other solutions include increasing women’s participation in the workforce, liberalizing immigration, and implementing better retirement systems.
Furthermore, the one-child policy leads people to spend more time at work while spending less time with their family, which reduces citizens’ happiness level. In order to make more money and support one’s family, many parents choose to leave their hometown and work in more wealthy provinces. This leads to elderly parents living alone without their children, often referred to as “empty nesters.” Based on Chinese demographic research, China has over 99 million “empty nesters” and the number is growing rapidly. The “empty nesters” are concerned by financial inadequacy, lack of physical care and insufficient emotional support. Because of the one-child policy, most people don’t have siblings to help them take care for their aging parents and grandparents, often referred to as the “four-to-one” problem. Considering that it is extremely difficult to raise one child, when most parents work full-time jobs, caring for four older family members in addition to one’s child may lead to immense pressure on young parents.
While the one-child policy seemingly benefits China on a larger scale, it has also limited China’s economic development by lowering the nation’s workforce, leaving immense pressure on social welfare, and ultimately reduces citizen’s happiness level.