Fallout From The One-Child Policy

As China considers loosening its one-child policy and internal encouragement of reform has been reported, the GlobalPost has launched a series surveying “the world’s worst ever man-made gender gap”.  The first article in the series looks at damage done to the nation’s gender balance, and asks what effects might linger regardless of family planning reform:

By 2020, sociologists expect an “extra” 35 million Chinese men — males for whom there are simply no available female partners. That’s slightly more than the population of Canada.

This army of single young men is coming of age now. Looking at the next decade and the questions loom large: What risks do they pose and how will China handle them? The questions are particularly relevant in the wake of uprisings in the Arab world, where restless young men are often pointed to at the heart of protests.

[…]“Crime rates, especially violent crime rates, are rising,” [gender ratio researcher Valerie Hudson] added. “These are the harbingers of the social unrest which we believe will result from about 15 percent of the young adult male population being surplus to the number of women in that age cohort.”

Though other countries have skewed gender ratios, China’s is likely worst than any other (though Vietnam is close), said Hudson. As it’s also a burgeoning world power and the world’s most populous nation, what happens here matters.

Since 2010, China has been home to more diabetics than any other country in the world, and Newstrack India reports that the one-child policy is exacerbating a diabetes epidemic:

 Diabetes in China, which is a greater burden in the country than in any other, is probably being aggravated by its one-child policy.

The Chinese Government said that about 100 million families have just one child, which translates into an equal number of first borns, a status that researchers are finding may be linked to conditions that raise obesity risk, Chong Yap Seng, a scientist at Singapore’s National University Hospital, said.

[…]Chong said that first borns gain weight faster and are bigger as adults, a trajectory that increases obesity risk and may explain why China’s diabetes prevalence has more than tripled in a decade, the report said.

The one-child policy has also contributed to a population pyramid that is becoming increasingly top-heavy. An article from Caixin contrasts China’s situation with Japan’s – a country whose government is actively encouraging childbearing to offset a rapidly aging population:

Japan is now desperately trying to encourage child-bearing so as to fight its way out of the rapidly-aging demographic structure. Meanwhile, as the country’s 2010 population census showed, China has a 1.2 fertility rate and is still implementing the one-child policy that limits childbearing. Such a contrast looks particularly glaring.

Perhaps the gaze of Chinese policymakers remains fixed upon the crowds filling up Beijing and Shanghai’s subways, and they are concerned that China has an overpopulation problem. The effect of a population policy takes time to show its results. This is why policymakers must keep in mind that the formulation of policy today must correspond to estimates in 20 or 30 year’s time.

If China maintains the current fertility rate, its demographic structure by 2040 will be nearly the same compared to Japan today. The series of issues that Japanese society must reckon with are likely to befall us.

Also see another recent article from Caixin comparing China with India – a country with a similarly large population, but a very different demographic situation.

A video report from Thomson Reuters’ The Knowledge Effect blog explains that even if family planning reform were to soon occur, it may be too late to prevent a demographic dilemma:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XAYxilsEJc]
In contrast to the negative fallout listed above, an article from the UPENN Wharton School’s online journal Knowledge@Wharton looks at one industry that is reaping economic benefits from the one-child policy. The article points out that China’s rapid urbanization is changing the culture of romantic congregation, and notes that state-sanctioned family planning is one factor fueling a boom in the online dating industry:

[…]This is the world of Chinese online dating, a nascent industry that has taken off and is expected to break two billion RMB (US$318 million) in total annual revenue by 2014, according to a recent report by Analysys International.

[…]China’s One-child Policy, rapid urbanization, and the widening gender imbalance have all played major roles in increasing the online-matchmaking market size. As urbanization continues to increase and fertility rates remain low, online matchmaking platforms will continue to grow.

For more on the one-child policy and gender imbalance in China, see prior CDT coverage. Also see “Demography: China’s Achilles Heel” via CDT.


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