Aiya! The Unintended Effects of China’s One Child Policy

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” I ask my thirty-something, China-born co-worker.

“No,” he replies with a half-hearted chuckle. “One Child Policy remember? Only one baby per family allowed.”

Pretty self explanatory in name, the One Child Policy restricted couples in urban China to having one child. Besides the lonely reality of the majority of children growing up without siblings, the controversial regulation has led to a number of unintended effects.

Originally envisioned to curb population growth and the associated negative effects; China’s One Child Policy was removed in 2015 after 35 years of government control on reproduction and the prevention of approximately 400 million births. The legacy it leaves behind can be found in many different aspects of life in China.

Relationships, Marriage, and Dating

Who would’ve thought that a long-standing cultural preference for boys over girls coupled with the availability of pre-birth gender screening technology in a society where couples are only allowed to have one child would lead to a gender imbalance further down the track? *Eye roll* Roughly 1 out of every 9 young men in China today has no realistic hope to get married. It is predicted that there will be approximately 30 million unmarried men by the year 2020.

An interesting body of literature has emerged that looks at the dating pool in China through an economic scope.  The surplus of men and the shortage of women on the market provides the latter with all the bargaining chips. This means that women can be more selective in who they choose as their sweetheart and men are having to werk for it.  It has been documented that Chinese men are increasing their entrepreneur pursuits, education level and professional skills to earn a higher pay and become more attractive relationship candidates.

The struggle of men to find partners can also be found in Chinese popular culture as a form of entertainment. The increase of dating shows in China highlights the transition from traditional marriage matchmaking practices to the more liberated, Western-style conception of today. One of the most popular game shows is If You Are The One. A male candidate presents a video resume showing off the highlights of their professional and personal experience to twenty-four women. After viewing, the women then immediately decide if they want to find out more about him or not based off this first impression. Harsh, but a pretty accurate reflection of China’s competitive market for marriage.

The Status of Women

During the 1950s and 1960s, girls were commonly named die di which translates to “bring a younger brother”. Sons have been revered in Chinese culture for thousands of years due to Confucian influence, the dominance of an agricultural economy, and because men carry on the family name. Daughters were expected to work within the house, listen to their father, brother, or husband, and their education was put on the back-burner.

The experiences of girls born in urban China after the One Child Policy are quite different. With no brother or second child to favour, parents saw the true worth of their daughters and investments were made in their education. After receiving the high test results of his daughter, a Chinese father is documented to have exclaimed,

“I was wrong to have wanted a son. A daughter like you is worth ten sons.”

The change in century old mindsets has led to a shift in Chinese society that introduced unprecedented opportunities in education and employment for Chinese women.  Women represented over half (51.4 percent) of tertiary graduates in 2014. This means that more women in China are college educated than ever before #girlpower #galsgalsgals #youllbringhonourtousall .

A Rapidly Ageing Population

When then-leader Deng Xiaoping introduced the reproduction regulation, the main concerns lay with the population growth rate. The effects that a reduction in family size would have on the elderly was not considered at the time but is now a major problem in modern day China. The working age population is expected to stop growing while the elderly population aged 65 and over will continue to increase rapidly.

In Chinese culture, the younger generation are expected to care and provide for their elderly relatives. As a result of the One Child Policy, Chinese families are experiencing a 4:2:1 epidemic. A single child cannot financially or logistically provide care for two parents and four grandparents. That would require 3 extra rooms in a house – granted everyone likes their respective partners! Alongside this issue is a population that is rapidly ageing. Humans are living longer because of modern medicine and less babies are being born because of regulation. This means that by 2025, China will officially become an “aged” society where over 14 percent of the population will be aged 65 and over as a result of increased life expectancy and lower fertility. The combination of these factors has led to a shift in traditional Chinese family structures and a larger reliance by the older generation on retirement benefits, pension plans, and social services.

Two Child Policy

The Two Child Policy was introduced after farewelling the previous reproduction law to address the ageing population issue. No prizes for what this new regulation entails. While Chinese officials have been optimistic about the results so far, few hold the same opinion. The new policy permits married couples to have more than one child. With the established long working hours and high costs of living, the question that remains is; can they afford to?

The future of China’s population dilemma is geared up to usher in more unintended effects. Your guess is as good as mine as to what they may be.

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