By Julia Aurell
Two weeks ago, the People’s Republic of China, led by Xi Jinping, decided to revoke its highly debated one-child policy. The policy, which was introduced over 35 years ago, has been a constant point of controversy at home as well as abroad, as China stands as one of the few countries in the world to insist that it can manage population growth as it sees fit. Initially designed to ensure that the emerging population did not gobble up economic growth, the source of the Communist Party’s legitimacy, the policy has led to worrying demographics. By 2050, 35% of the 1.35 billion population is predicted to be over the age of 60. Meanwhile the working-age population fell by 3.71% in 2014, a trend which is predicted to continue over the next decade. With such statistics, one must pose the question; will Xi and his government be the victim to the Communist party’s own policies?
Introduced in September 1980, the program is estimated to have prevented the birth of nearly 400 million children. Many women have reported dealing with the personal traumas of losing these children. Nevertheless, social consequences never motivated any reassessment of the policy. Rather, the worries of an aging population and declining economic growth have been the primary cause of concern for the Communist Party. Yi Fuixan, an outspoken critic and professor in Human Demographics, has frequently voiced his opinions of the economic downfall associated with declining demographics, noting that if the trend is not reversed “the future for China’s economy will look grim.” For the People’s Republic of China, the continuous economic growth has been a major source of power. An instantaneous decline in economic growth could threaten the regime and spark a demand for a change in ideology. Because of these economic pressures China may have revoked its policy to maintain political balance and control over its population.
However, this is not the first time the Communist Party has taken steps to relax the brutal reinforcement of the policy. In 2013, Beijing introduced a policy that permitted parents who had only one child to apply for consideration to have a second child. This change was predicted to boost China’s population by 2 million annually. However, by September of this year only 1.76 million people had applied for this privilege, implying only an increase of 1 million newborns, half of the Communist Party’s predictions. The selective two-child policy proved a failure, and thus the only sensible route was scrapping the policy completely and allowing all women to have two children. The Chinese government has proclaimed an annual target of 20 million births per year; an 8 million increase to the amount of births recorded in 2013. Will the predictions be correct this time around, or has the ship sailed for higher Chinese population growth?
Stuart Gietel-Basten, associate professor of social policy at the University of Oxford says that “the reforms will be too little too late.” Although the Communist party seems to have bowed to the reality of the situation, without acknowledging their immediate failure, couples will still face a two-child policy; a system enforced through permits and heavy fines.
Nevertheless, the two-child policy will not solve the deeper issues which are coming to underpin Chinese society. With an incredible population source available to employers, parents are forced to spend both time and money on their child in order to secure success. In 2011, it was estimated that the average disposable income in Shanghai was 32,000 Yuan. However, schooling for one child equated to nearly 31,838 Yuan, leading 35% of parents to parents to deem that raising a child is a burden. Not only must parents take care of children, the Chinese society and tradition states that a good child must take care of their parents. Further, the demographics of women in China have changed. According to the Chinese government, nearly 90 million women are eligible for the 2nd child policy. Conversely, 60% of these women are over 35. Not only have families and careers often been created at this point, females may not wish to undergo the health risks associate for both baby and mom at such an age.
With these burdens, many couples may not be willing to have more children, even if they will be encouraged to do so. Though there may be steps for the Chinese government to promote growth, such as offering cash incentives to mothers to encourage large families, decades of government propaganda may have convinced them that one child really is the best and any deviation from such is unacceptable. The social stigma around two-children, coupled with increasing financial and social burdens will have continuous impact on China’s demographics for years to come. However, this offers a problematic picture. Will the falling demographics resulting from a policy implemented to preserve economic growth and power prove to be the Achilles heel of the Chinese Communist Party?
Photo by kattebelletje