One-Child Policy

The Weekly Standard has a good article about the implications of China’s one-child policy by Jonathan V. Last. He gives a concise overview of the history of it and also looks at its effects on demographics.

The Lost Girls

China’s One-Child policy is an epic disaster. Why does it have so many cheerleaders?

This grisly reality is behind the Associated Press’s happy talk about China being a paradise for girls. The relative scarcity of girls has meant that women are prized and treated exceptionally well by parents, who can devote all their resources to them, and suitors who want to marry them. Things really are great for Chinese girls—if they survive until birth.

China’s sex imbalance means that the country has a large cohort of men for whom marriage will be a statistical impossibility. By the late 2020s nearly one in five Chinese men will be “surplus males.” This has all sorts of cultural consequences—increased violence and political instability historically attend gender imbalances. But from a demographic standpoint, it means that China’s already low fertility rate is functionally lower than it looks—because of the sex disparity among children who are born, many fewer than half will be females who have the opportunity to reproduce.

The other unintended consequence is that One-Child has radically altered China’s age structure, giving it many more old people than young. In 2005, the country’s median age was 32-years-old. By 2050, it will be 45-years-old, and a full quarter of the populace will be over 65. That means 330 million senior citizens, most of whom will have little or no family to care for them.

China has no pension system to speak of and will have only 2 workers per retiree—which isn’t much of a tax base from which to build one. The age ratio may cause a labor shortage, too: In the next 10 years, the number of Chinese aged 20 to 24 will drop by 45 percent. All age-cohorts will shrink, except among the elderly. It is a looming demographic catastrophe—Eberstadt calls it a “slow-motion humanitarian tragedy.” All of these problems are as obvious as they are unavoidable; yet they are rarely acknowledged in the West.

continue reading . . .

Not widely acknowledged in the West, I’m sure Mr. Last meant to write. Of course, Salvo has devoted a number of articles to the subject. Michael Cook wrote a shorter piece on this very topic in the Winter 09 issue of Salvo. And then just last year Robin Phillips weighed in with his piece on population control as a means to combat global warming. Towards the end of this article Mr. Phillips makes an interesting observation about the attitude of the one-child cheerleaders:

While not wanting to begrudge the polar bear his ice, we should be at least somewhat concerned at this recent shift in thinking. We should be concerned, not primarily because ice is melting (if it is), but because global warming—or at least the idea of it—is responsible for a renewed interest in population control. If history shows us anything, it is that when a civilization begins to feel guilty for existing, the results are usually unpleasant.


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