Esther Duflo: Too Many Boys…

Written by Esther Duflo, Professor of Economics at MIT, from

China is gradually getting rid of the vestiges of its communist past. But the demographic policy of the 1980s and 1990s planted a time bomb, and its effects are just starting to be felt.

Its best-known aspect is the one-child policy, first put in place in 1978 and still in practice, though in a more relaxed form. Today, a couple made up of two only-children are allowed to have two children. In rural regions, a couple whose first child is a girl is normally authorised to have a second. But in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the one-child policy was strictly applied, albeit not uniformly across regions. Parents were penalised for births “outside quota”. They were fined and were financially responsible for the education and health-care of “extra” children.

Envisioned by Deng Xiaoping, this aggressive fertility control strategy marked a rupture with the Mao period, which had launched the slogan “more people, more power”. Xiaoping considered fertility control essential to getting a handle on the economy, the foundation of China’s success.


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