I’ll bet you ending the one child policy won’t matter

By Razib Khan | March 5, 2013 5:17 pm

On Twitter Chris Mims expresses the entirely reasonable proposition that China’s low fertility is a prescription for long term socioeconomic disaster (they’re already beyond “peak worker”), with a link to an article in Quartz, China’s ratio of boys to girls is still dangerously high—and it’s the Chinese government’s fault. First, I’ve noted before that in East Asian societies where male preference was the norm this can shift very quickly. It happened to South Korea over the past 10 years, and it happened in Japan a generation ago. To my knowledge this was more of a matter of “bottom-up” cultural changes than government policy.

Second, the one child policy matters less than we think it does.


For what it’s worth, Taiwan’s fertility rate was 1.12 in 2005. The relative ignorance of these trends in East Asia (i.e., beyond China) among the public is reflective of the reality that in some ways the West is very cultural self-centered. Similarly, most Westerners observing European secularization are totally unaware that East Asian societies have long been the most irreligious on the face of the planet (before Communism as well).

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Demographics
  • http://twitter.com/omarali50 omar ali

    It won’t improve their demographics but it will be a huge step forward for human rights in China. The right to decide if you do or don’t want to have more children is still in the hands of parents in most countries. I know some of my leftist friends will jump in with lectures about the subtle and not so subtle pressures that constrain this choice under the evil capitalist system, but I think this is still a very important freedom and the Chinese should have been pilloried a lot more than they have been…

  • TheBrett

    The Taiwanese fertility rate is just staggering – less than one child per woman in 2010. That said, their overall demographics in terms of age and percentage of population don’t seem too bad.

    I’ve heard the South Korean fertility rate divides on class lines. Wealthier families still tend to have a higher percentage of sons, while less wealthy families are more balanced. My guess is that the son preference will diminish even further if the South Koreans finally start putting in place some better old age pensions (which have been a much bigger issue recently), reducing the dependence of elderly parents on their children for support.

  • chris_T_T

    The one child policy has probably significantly exasperated the gender ratio problem though. Even if many couples would have ultimately only had one child, blocking even the theoretical possibility of having more probably led to more than a few females being aborted.

  • UncleTomRukusInWhiteHeaven

    The fertility rate is not really the problem, as much as the gender imbalance, which only enhances the fertility problem in the long term. It is correct that all East Asian nations (and derived, such as Singapore) have very low birth rates. The reasons why, usually have to do with economics and also a very low marriage rate (lower than most of Europe), and since Asian women typically will not have children out of wedlock…well…

    • razibkhan

      .Unlike in the West, people tend to live at home until nearly 30 or older.

      any definition of ‘the west’ that excludes italy is stupid.

      • UncleTomRukusInWhiteHeaven

        actually this is correct, it is more correct to say, unlike Northwestern Europe, the Med countries are more likely to live at home (also somewhat for economic, as well as cultural reasons). It’s not just Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, etc. No need to be harsh, simply making a similar mistake that many make when comparing East Asia to the West. We compare the extremes, forgetting that in many ways Southern Europe is somewhat closer to East Asia in a lot of cultural norms than Northern Europe.

        • razibkhan

          We compare the extremes, forgetting that in many ways Southern Europe is somewhat closer to East Asia in a lot of cultural norms than Northern Europe.

          that “we” does not include me :-) in any case, germany has a different model than england & scandinavia (also low TFR, different reasons than the south).

          • UncleTomRukusInWhiteHeaven

            I spoke about this issue at a discussion group with people from the region, you might like some of this info, this is Taiwan specific, but it is quite reflective of the region. This backs up my first post as well.

            More specifically on Taiwan:
            http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2010/09/15/2003482929
            “Of the females, 50.1 percent said they would not be happier if they were married, while only 39.5 percent thought married people are happier than those who stay single.”
            http://www.economist.com/node/21526329
            “Taiwan aged 30-34 were single, as were 21% of 35-39-year-olds. This, too, is more than in Britain and America, where only 13-15% of those in their late 30s are single. If women are unmarried entering their 40s, they will almost certainly neither marry nor have a child.”
            The trend has gotten worse:
            http://www.chinapost.com.tw/taiwan/national/national-news/2012/03/24/335655/p2/Spinster-remarks.htm
            Around 50 percent of women between the ages of 20 to 49 are married, while only 44 percent of men in the same age bracket are married, an MOI survey conducted in 2010 said.
            At the end of 2011, 2.17 million women in Taiwan were unmarried, while the figure for men was 2.7 million.
            The most striking difference is one of procreation, most Western nations in that there has been an increase in out-of-wedlock child birth in Western nations, but as you can see in the link below, nothing has changed in Japan.
            http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2009-05-13-unmarriedbirths_N.htm
            In, Japan the number of children born out-of-wedlock in 2007 was only 2%, up from 1% in 1980. Compare this to Sweden, which was 40% in 1980 and 55% in 2007! France 11% in 1980 and 50% in 2006. (The current president of France Hollande has 4 children out-of-wedlock).
            In Taiwan, this is clearly socially unacceptable as the government has to remind people not to discriminate against mothers and children in this situation:
            http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2010/03/27/2003469071

  • meo fio

    The one-child policy is only for city folk anyway. Of the dozen young migrant workers I’ve met in china last year, not one was single child, all has brother or sister, one migrant girl told me she has 2 sisters and 1 brother.

  • http://www.facebook.com/peter.yuen1 Peter Yuen

    Second your comments – plus the fact that the “one child policy” hasn’t been the one child policy for years AND that they government is deliberately delaying further watering down because it knows that official numbers *underestimate* population growth.

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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