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Side Effects of the One-Child Policy in China

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As China was in the transitioning from an agricultural nation to an industrial one, their population started to rapidly increase due to the improved sanitation. Around 1950, food availability started to diminish, but the population continued to rise. In 1962 there were around 30 million deaths in China due to famine. It took about a decade to recover from all the loss, but the population continued to increase, and the food sources started to deplete. This time, the government tried to be proactive about the issue and started advertising natural family planning along with birth control. The campaigning worked, but it did not show the promising results that were needed to keep the country from facing famine. After years of relentless efforts to slow down the population and fear of facing another famine, the government issued a one-child policy in 1979.

It was the intention at the time that this policy was enacted that it was just temporary, however, it stayed for about thirty years. This policy applied to the Han Chinese ethnicity, which made up the vast majority to the Chinese population. There were a couple of exceptions: families that lived in rural China or the ethnic minorities were allowed to have as many children as they pleased. Families who adhered to this policy were rewarded with better employment opportunities, higher wages, as well as government assistance. Ones who disobeyed this policy were subject to fines and were not assisted by the government. If a family were to have a second child, that child would be undocumented making it impossible for an education or to get a job. Although this policy served its purpose by successfully slowing down the population, there are some radical side effects that will stop every country from ever considering this policy when facing an increasing population. The one-child policy in China has resulted in a skewed sex ratio, a rapidly aging population, and a shrinking workforce.

The Chinese society bases many of their beliefs on Confucianism. Confucianism believes in a hierarchy where the older sibling has more authority than the younger one and males are preferred over females. When families were only allowed to have one child, it was preferred that they had a boy rather than a girl. It was a common practice to have an abortion if it was known that the child was going to be a girl. Sex selective abortions are illegal in China, but there is really no way to know the true intentions behind it. The families would keep trying until they had a boy. This led to a skewed sex ratio. Today, there are thirty-three million more men than women in China. The gender imbalance gave rise to lower fertility rates. Thirty-three million men will not find a wife, which will continue to lower the already decreasing fertility rates.

It is estimated that roughly a fourth of the population is over the age of sixty. The elderly are completely dependent on their children to financially support them after they retire.

After the government started to realize the undesirable side effects of the one-child policy, they decided it was time to pull back a little. In 2013 the Chinese government relaxed the one-child policy to a two-child policy with high hopes that would fix all the problems arising, however, fertility rates have continued to decrease. The social norm in China is having one child, so when the policy was changed, few families saw the need to. It is estimated to take decades before families start having more than one child. Another factor is the increased cost of living. Families could not support themselves financially if they were to have a second child.

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