China Ends One-Child Policy

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A blog about business and economics.
Nov. 15 2013 8:14 AM

China Ends One-Child Policy

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Do I really want a little brother?

Photo by WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

Big news for Chinese families today as the ruling party announces a major reform to the infamous "one child" policy. Now an urban couple can have two kids as long as one of the two parents is an only child.

The one child policy has become a bit of an odd beast. It was first implemented at a time of widespread belief in overpopulation stories and the urgent need to encourage families all around the world to have fewer kids. In that context, the one child policy was unusually draconian and reflected China's authoritarian politics, but also reflected broader ideas with considerable support in the west about demographics and economics.

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From today's vantage point, it just looks like an unmitigated disaster. It's a huge impairment of human freedom, but it's also left China with a rapidly aging population and a severe gender imbalance among its younger cohorts. We've also learned more broadly that birth rates fall pretty dramatically in basically all societies that feature birth control technology, women with some modicum of autonomy from their male partners, and access to global popular culture. Which is to say that even without population control measures, most developed countries have birth rates below replacement level and most developing countries are rapidly converging.

The same policy announcement also says that China will no longer try to "re-educate" people by sentencing them to slave labor camps. All in all, a good day.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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