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As of this week, China’s infamous one-child policy is gone. But its paternalistic family-planning policies remain, in the form of a “two-child policy.”
This makes no sense. There are no signs of the resource-straining baby boom that family planning officials have long prophesied. In the many areas where the one-child policy was already lifted, far fewer couples than expected are planning on having a second child. What tiny fraction would be entertaining a third?
Plus, China needs those extra babies. It’s getting older way faster than it’s getting richer, making the country likely to languish in the dreaded middle-income trap. On top of that, China desperately needs more girl children to begin closing its yawning gender gap.
Received wisdom holds the one-child policy responsible for these problems. It isn’t (though it did exacerbate them). The fertility rate began dropping in the 1970s, years before the one-child policy. A preference for sons—due to cultural traditions, labor practices, and old-age security—likely caused the gender gap, as Elizabeth Remick and Charis Loh argue (paywall).
Since the one-child policy didn’t create these problems, scrapping it won’t fix them. Instead, bulking up social welfare would help wean China’s poor rural residents off their reliance on sons for support in old age (which may explain why the government just announced plans for a universal pension). Better leave policies and education reform would encourage couples to have more children. So too, of course, would letting them have as many as they want.
So why institute a two-child policy when it could have ditched the policy altogether? For 35 years, the state has loomed over the lives of its people, controlling uteruses and re-rigging family trees. Letting them plan their families would imply new personal freedoms—and those clearly still don’t jibe with the Communist Party’s vision.—Gwynn Guilford
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Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, chimeric DNA, and sports-bra designs firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.
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