China’s family-size rules

When the leadership of a country of 1.3 billion people changes its rules about having children, there is reason to take notice.

Last week, the Chinese government announced that after years of a one-child rule, many couples now will be able to have two children. The change? In the past, both parents had to be an only child to have two children of their own; now, only one parent need be.

The expanded family – a doubling of the number of children – largely will apply to urban families. Rural families, those involved in agriculture, have been able to have larger families after receiving approval of local governments.

In its announcement, the Chinese government said it was relaxing its limited-population mandate in response to the desire of Chinese to have more children. Observers, those knowledgeable about demographics, had much more to say, according to reporting in the Wall Street Journal and in The Financial Times.

As difficult to believe as it might seem after scanning the shelves of almost any retail store in this country, China must have a larger workforce to fuel its economy as it also supports its aging population. One child is insufficient for both those tasks. Expect the change to mean about a million more births annually in addition to the 15 million or 16 million today, The Financial Times reports.

The irony, as the Wall Street Journal points out, is that it will take 20 years to reach the point at which additional children born today will begin to be productive. Between now and then, there actually will be a reduction in China’s economic growth rate as tied to the size of the labor force as parents spend more time away from the workplace to raise two children rather than one. Double-digit economic growth could be cut by about one-third, the Journal estimates.

China’s authoritarian government instituted what many outsiders consider to be its most severe intrusion into family life, the one-child rule, in the face of fear that the country’s resources would not be able to support a significantly larger population. Estimates vary, of course, but it is possible that China would be the home to 2.3 billion people rather than 1.3 billion if the severely limited family size had not been imposed.

Whether the additional children also will partially correct the extreme imbalance between female and male births remains to be seen. Again according to The Financial Times, 80 girls are born in China for every 100 boys. That has been a factor in the country’s reduced birthrate and in its certain population decline.

The Chinese leadership has mandated much in internal political and economic arenas to the great disadvantage of its citizens. It continues to determine family size. We can hope that someday Chinese parents will be able to make that decision for themselves.

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