One Child Policy in China

What is One Child Policy? It is the birth control policy, one of the most important social policies over the world. Simply to say, One Child Policy is the population control policy that has applied since 1979 in China. The government sets a limit for the maximum number of children for each family. It officially restricts married urban couples to have only one child while it allows rural couples, minorities to have more than one child. It isn’t quite difficult to imagine how China would have been if the birth control policy hadn’t been applied.
People would have suffered from famine, death and the shortage of variety of sources. However, One Child Policy is a double-edge sword for China. On the one hand, China effectively controls the population growth, fertility rate, and gains huge economic benefit as well; on the other hand, it is a source of great pain for one generation. To understand the One Child Policy it is necessary to know a bit of history about how and why it was created. Until the 1960s, the government encouraged families to have as many children as possible because of Mao’s belief that “the more people, the stronger we are” (Potts, 2006, p. 361). It prevented the emergence of the development of One Child Policy earlier in China. In the next few decades, the population grew from around 540 million in 1949 to 940 million in 1976 (National Bureau of Statistics, P.R.China, 2000).
Beginning in 1970, Chinese people were encouraged to marry at an older age, and they were allowed to have two children. Although the fertility rate began to decrease, the government launched the One Child Policy due to the future overwhelming population growth (Potts, 2006). The One Child Policy has significant effects on variety factors, such as population growth and fertility rate, social health service, education, and the development of economy. The first plain effect is the control of population growth and fertility rate.

Statistics in figure 1 shows the fertility rate in China from 1960 to 2010, and the fertility rate fell from 2.63 births per woman in 1980 to 1.61 in 2010, which almost reached 6 in the 1960s. The Chinese government makes the claim that it had three to four hundred million fewer people in 2008 under the One Child Policy (Hu, 2002).
One of the most important considerations of One Child Policy is related to economy. The economic development is the original intent of this policy, such as reducing the demand of nature resources and decreasing the unemployment of surplus labors. Obviously, the limited resource cannot always satisfy the demand of resource of the growing population. The sufficient nature resource is a vital factor for a group of people to survive; enough social resource is significant for a society to stabilize. As Deng Xiaoping, who is the former leader in China, said that “the development is the only principle”.
As long as the country had a steady population rate, the society would function within a balance between both nature and social resource and the demand of resource of the population. Undeniably, China, Chinese people and even the whole world are all benefited from the One Child Policy in terms of reduction of the demand for resources. Now, the One Child Policy has existed for over thirty years. People gain the profit but also gain the pain from it, especially the generation of single children. It’s a labeled generation. Little emperors, little princesses, little suns are all used to describe this self-centered generation. These labels also show the possible social problems for this generation.
Most single children are unable to care for their older adult relatives and others because they are used to receiving and accepting the love from parents and grandparents while rarely give and share with others in the family. People worry that it would result in a tendency of poor social communication and cooperation skills for these young adults in the society. In fact, these young adults pay more than others to learn cooperation and communication with others when they start their career lives. Besides the social problem, another problem of this generation is the “four-two-one” problem. As the first generation under the One Child Policy, the children who were born in 1980s are approaching adulthood now. They are building their own families, getting married and having babies.
In China, they are responsible to support their parents and four grandparents. It is called the “four-two-one Problem”. Statistics shows that there are ninety million only children in China in 2000 (Yang, 2010). The young adults, who are still struggling in the society themselves, should take the responsibility of their own small families; meanwhile, they also have to be responsible for their parents and grandparents. It is a huge life stress.
With pains and gains in these thirty years the One Child Policy has completed its mission in its first step. Page (2011) presents that “China appears to have achieved that goal: Initial census results show China’s population, the world’s largest, rose to 1.34 billion in 2010, from 1.27 billion in 2000. That puts average annual growth at 0.57% over the decade, down from 1.07% in 1990-2000” (p. 1). Recently, the existence of the One Child Policy is becoming a debate. People discuss whether the policy should exit the stage of the history or still maintain in effect. Figure 2 shows the Chinese population growth from 1961 to 2008.
Under the application of One Child Policy the tendency of demography growth shows a steady rising pace. If the government abolished the One Child Policy suddenly, the Chinese demography would still increase sharply in the next few decades. One of the essential factors couldn’t be ignored: the Chinese demography has a hugest base in the world.
Figure 2: Population of China from 1961 to 2008 Source: Quilokos, D. Creative Commons, 2011
The Chinese government declared that the One Child Policy will still be implemented on the population control in another decade. In the next phase, the One Child Policy will turn to a relative loose phase. It has new criteria to allow couples to have a second child such as the parents who are the only children themselves (Page, 2011). To sum up, the One Child Policy was created in China in a specific time; it has both positive and negative effects these years. Although it is a source of great pain for one generation, people cannot deny the resulting benefits. It will remain effective in China as an important policy at least for one more decade, and gradually fade out from the stage of Chinese history.

Hu, H. (2002, Oct 18). Family Planning Law and China’s Birth Control Situation. Retrieved from
National Bureau of Statistics, P.R.China. Total population, CBR, CDR, NIR and TFR of China 1949-2000. China Daily. Retrieved from /2010-08/20/content_11182379.htm
Page, J. (2011, April 29). China’s one-child plan faces new fire: Census shows slowing growth as population ages, giving critics ammunition. The Wall Street Journal Online. Retrieved from html
Potts, M. (2006). China’s one child policy: the policy that changed the world. BMJ, 333, 361.
Yang, Y. (2010. Oct 10). Are “four-two-one”families really a problem?. China Population Association Online. Retrieved from

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