China’s demographic policy- choices and consequences – Wang Feng

From AsiaPacific Issues (in PDF form):

Wang’s 12-page essay cites and documents facts essential to understanding earlier, present and likely future debates on this topic.

Emphasizing the plurality of China’s population policies, sociologist Wang corrects the common impression that China ever had a single policy, even during the same time period.

China’s birth rate was halved during 1970-1979. That decline occurred before China’s “one-child policy” was implemented with the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party’s “An Open Letter to Members of the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese Communist Youth League on Controlling Population Growth” in, September 1980 (cited in Wang, endnote ii). The sharp fall-off in the 1970s was the basis for earlier criticism that China’s “one-child policy” was Malthusian overkill –largely unnecessary.

While reporting imbalanced sex ratios and related gender disparities (to the disadvantage of girl children), Wang also reports successful resistance to the “one-child policy” and underlines the related “collapse” of confidence in China’s birth reporting system. (As one type of evidence supporting this inference, the number of 10-to-14-year-olds reported in 2000 exceeded the number of infants and children ages 0-4 reported in 1990!) The degradation of quality in demographic statistics is a less-well-known consequence of successful organized and individual resistance to government birth policies.

China’s steepening age pyramid will resemble Japan’s or Italy’s within two or three decades. According to Wang, however, China’s growing cohort of 65-and-older Chinese elderly are already increasingly bereft of government and family support. Most Chinese elderly still live in rural China.

“Even after adjusting for possible underreporting,” Dr. Wang writes, “China’s current fertility level is likely around 1.5 to 1.6 children per couple, substantially below the replacement level.” Wang, who teaches at University of California-Irvine tells us that time is running out. “Within the next decade, China will see its last substantial labor force increase.”

Wang acknowledges the government’s retreat from coercive policies. But from the author’s perspective, China has just five years to initiate policies ameliorating the increasingly negative effects of the “one-child policy.” Further procrastination, we are told, will contribute to even more acute social pain.

“Can China Afford to Continue Its One-Child Policy?” is an easy read. Essential quantitative data are presented numerically, graphically and discursively.

December 27, 2005 9:11 AM
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