The End of China’s One-Child Policy


Facing a graying population, a less competitive labor industry, and long-standing humanitarian outcries, the Chinese Communist Party announced the end of China’s one-child policy, set to start in March 2016 (Beauchamp).    

The policy originated during the Mao Zedong regime in the late 1970s.  Previously, Chinese families had been encouraged to procreate in order to increase agricultural output, which had raised the fertility rate to 5.8 children per woman (Merino 55).  Faced with the prospect of overpopulation, the government enforced a one-child policy that caused the fertility rate to decline to its present-day level of just under 2 children per woman.  

A small boy in mainland in China. Source:

From a global health perspective, the one-child policy has done enormous harm on two fronts.  First, the policy has contributed to a substantial gender gap in the Chinese population.  Male children carry the family name and provide future monetary assistance for their family members.  As a result of these cultural norms, it has been desirable for families in China to have male children.  As a result of the one-child policy, couples in China have increasingly participated in the practice of sex-selective abortions, leading to a projection of 30 million more men than women in 2020 (Brooks).  Additionally, the policy has done tangible harm to childbearing women in the country.   On a psychological front, Reggie Littlejohn, the president of Women’s Rights for Frontiers, wrote “persistent emotional pressure, estrangement from the extended family, threat of abandonment or divorce, verbal abuse, and domestic violence often overpower women who otherwise would not choose to keep their daughters” (Littlejohn).  Further, a study conducted by Tianjin Medical University found a strong correlation between forced abortions and breast cancer, explaining that one induced abortion increased the mother’s risk by 44 percent (Huang et al. 227).  Historically, the one-child policy has detrimentally impacted millions of Chinese families and children.

The removal of the one-child policy certainly has the potential to ease the financial burden of an aging Chinese population.  The one-child policy has created a unique challenge known as the “4-2-1” problem.  Traditionally, it has been up to the children of the family to care for their elder’s health care costs.  Because of this policy, one child now has to take on the financial costs of two parents and four grandparents.  With the removal of the one-child policy, this financial burden could possibly be eased.  However, this assumes that the removal of this restriction will result in an increase in the fertility rate.

The policy originated during the regime of Mao Zedong (pictured above). Source:

This is not necessarily the case; in fact, it seems that the low fertility rate has been caused not just by the one-child policy, but by other economic and cultural factors as well.  Dr. Yong Cai of the UNC Carolina Population Center posits that economically, because of escalating educational costs combined with the increasing normalcy of a college education in China, families will continue to choose to just have one child.  On a cultural level, the policy combined with effective propaganda has engendered the notion that “a family can be complete with only one child” (Cai).  Indeed, Dr. Cai proves this by showing that in some provinces where the policy was already relaxed, fertility levels have not increased appreciably (Cai).  

The economic burdens created by the one-child policy will likely remain unchanged by the removal of the one-child policy.  However, one can only hope that its removal will have a positive, if limited, effect on the agency of Chinese women as well as a tangible reduction in female infanticide.


Beauchamp, Zack. “China’s Infamous One-child Policy Is Finally Over. Here’s Why.” Vox. Vox Media, 29 Oct. 2015. Web. 06 Dec. 2015.

Brooks, Rob. “China’s Biggest Problem? Too Many Men.” CNN. Cable News Network, 04 Mar. 2013. Web. 06 Dec. 2015.

Cai, Yong. “Economic and Cultural Factors Lead to China’s Low Fertility Rate, More so than Government’s One-child Policy.” UNC Carolina Population Center. N.p., May 2010. Web. 06 Dec. 2015.

Huang, Yubei, Xiaoliang Zhang, Weiqin Li, Fengju Song, Hongji Dai, Jing Wang, Ying Gao, Xueou Liu, Chuan Chen, Ye Yan, Yaogang Wang, and Kexin Chen. “A Meta-analysis of the Association between Induced Abortion and Breast Cancer Risk among Chinese Females.” Cancer Causes & Control Cancer Causes Control 25.2 (2013): 227-36. PubMed. National Center for Biotechnology Information, 25 Feb. 2015. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.

Littlejohn, Reggie. “China’s Gendercide: When Women Are Strapped to Tables and Forced to Have Abortions.”, 10 Oct. 2014. Web. 06 Dec. 2015.s

Merino, Faith. Adoption and Surrogate Pregnancy. New York: Facts On File, 2010. Print.


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