Why China Needs More Children

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from TIME Magazine,

After decades of the one-child policy, Beijing wants its people to have more kids. It may be too late for that.

The world’s most populous nation, 1.35 billion strong, will soon have too few people–or, rather, too few of the right kind of people. That’s because more than three decades of government-mandated family planning, often called the one-child policy, have succeeded beyond the architects’ grandest dreams. Add to that the natural inclination of richer, more educated people like Liu and his wife to limit their family size, and China’s population growth is projected to taper off in 15 years.

That would leave the People’s Republic with a distorted population: too few youths, too few women and too many elderly. Writing in the Population and Development Review, a peer-reviewed journal published by the Population Council in New York City, three top Chinese demographers predict that “the one-child policy will be added to the other deadly errors in recent Chinese history,” alongside the turbulent 1966–76 Cultural Revolution and a devastating man-made famine in 1959–61. “While those grave mistakes both cost tens of millions of lives, the harms done were relatively short-lived and were corrected quickly afterward. The one-child policy, in contrast, will surpass them in impact.”

Ironically, the one-child policy now threatens to undermine the very economic success it helped spawn. The family-planning program, coupled with market reforms launched around the same time, is credited with catalyzing China’s modern transformation. With fewer bellies to feed, the government turned a hand-to-mouth society into the world’s second largest economy.

(For a nation to maintain its population, it needs a total fertility rate of at least 2.1 babies per woman.) By 2030, China’s population is expected to peak at just short of 1.4 billion and then begin a long decline.

In implementing the largest social-engineering experiment in human history, the People’s Republic has merely traded one population time bomb for another. China now faces a multitude of social woes usually seen in more-developed economies better equipped to handle these challenges. It is growing old before it grows rich–bringing about an explosion of elderly Chinese even as the government has presided over a fraying of the nation’s socialist safety net.

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