John Garnaut has a piece in the Fairfax press claiming that China’s one child policy may be on its way out:
CHINA’S sometimes brutal one-child policy is expected to be loosened next year, as policy advisers come to grips with the implications of having one of the world’s most rapidly ageing populations.
Chinese experts have told The Age that five provinces are set to relax the policy next year and this trial may spread nationwide by 2013 or 2014, at which point China’s working-age population will have stopped growing and the policy’s ”demographic dividend” will have become a headwind.
The brutality with which the one-child policy has been implemented is well-known, and it should go without saying that the cessation of such brutality would be wonderful. However, I doubt that is uppermost in the mind of the Chinese leadership in their decision – if, indeed, it has been made – to relax the policy.
Was it worth it? Much of China (at least by Australian standards) remains hugely crowded and polluted; these strains would surely have been even worse if China’s population was larger. However, the actual impact of the one-child policy is possibly less dramatic than you’d think. Hesketh and Xing published an evaluation in the NEJM in 2005, noting that much of the reduction in China’s birth rates from the highs of the 1960s actually happened before the one-child policy was introduced, and would have almost certainly continued to decline as China’s economy improved and China’s population urbanised. There’s also an obvious question (though a damnably difficult to answer one) – what would the result of a non-coercive, but similarly determined and resourced family planning effort been?
The effects of the relaxation of the policy on China’s birth sex ratios will also be interesting to watch, to say the least.