The fact that China is facing an economic crisis is not news. The fact that it could be revising its one-child policy is certainly news, as the country confronts a rapidly ageing population and a work force that is shrinking in number and size by the day. There are, however, caveats to this rethink on part of the Chinese Communist Party. A second child will be permitted only if either the husband or the wife hails from a one-child family. This doesn’t seem to be particularly astonishing in the light of the fact that under the original policy, additional children were allowed in several cases, including twins, rural couples and ethnic minorities, and those couples who were both only children themselves.
The one-child policy has been the basis of China’s social policies since Deng Xiaoping embarked on a defining step to liberalise the Chinese economy in 1978. But the CPC has never been in a hurry to phase the policy out, preferring to relax it in times of dire economic straits. It followed the precedent in 2007 and in 2011, on a country-wide basis. Cities and provinces like Hainan and Shanghai have already implemented the plan. Recent statistics released by the China Development Research Foundation, however, paint a rather grim picture. In 2012, China had about 185 million people above the age of 60, with the number expected to surge to 221 million in 2015. The figures were inclusive of 51 million “empty nesters” – elderly people whose children no longer live with them.
Further loosening of the policy controls is widely anticipated as China’s labour force reaches a saturation point. Indeed, a study done by the Allianz Demographic Pulse says that the turning point for the Chinese labour market will be reached in 2013 itself. Separate studies have also blamed the policy for worsening the gender divide in the country. National Bureau of Statistics estimates, for example, that Chinese men of marriageable age will outnumber women of the same age by 24 million.
Resentment and anger over the one-child policy has been simmering just below the surface. In July, a man killed two one-child policy officials and injured several others in the city of Dongxing for refusing to register his fourth child. A poll by the Southern Metropolis Daily put the number of Chinese wanting to have a second child as half of mainland China – in total, 56 percent of the 1400 people polled. Another 28 percent said that while they would like to have a second child, economic and financial difficulties prevented them from doing so.
China’s one-child Policy does not exist in isolation. It is tied in with a number of other socio-economic factors, such as the correlation between female education and female fertility. On the whole, the demographic patterns that the country is seeing are on a par with many other developing countries such as Thailand and Turkey, which are exhibiting the same patterns. Chinese policy-makers have their work cut out in order to put in place a sustainable social system to rein in the ageing demographic.
China’s population is projected to increase around 1.4 billion by 202o before declining rapidly.
Analysts say the planned easing of the one-child policy is part of the larger strategy of economic reforms pursued by the new leadership of President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. The new dispensation is Beijing is pushing for a radical reorientation of China’s growth model from an export-driven economy to domestic consumption-fuelled growth. The increase in population, resulting from the speculated relaxation of the one-child policy, could help in achieving the consumption-driven growth model.
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