China’s Birthrate Could Keep Falling Even Without the One-Child Policy

How It Works
Nov. 21 2013 11:52 AM

Will China’s Birthrate Keep Falling Even Without the One-Child Policy? 

A Chinese boy is filmed playing the ukulele for a video to promote his stage career, which is managed by his mother, at Ritan Park in Beijing on Nov. 10, 2013.

Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Foreign Policy’s Liz Carter notes the results of a recent Chinese Internet survey, which could give some perspective on potential impact of the government’s recent decision to further ease the one-child policy:

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

But according to a Nov. 18 survey of 5,000 web users conducted on Sina Weibo, a surprisingly large portion of Chinese think one is plenty: 52 percent of respondents said the "economic pressure" of a second child would be too much. Chinese wages are expected to rise 8.4 percent in 2013, yet many still feel constrained. "In China, when you get married you have to take care of both partners' parents," explained one Weibo user. "And don't forget the mortgage. Add another child to that and the pressure is enormous."

In other words, the kind of educated middle-class young people taking surveys on Sina Weibo—China’s equivalent of Twitter—aren’t necessarily itching to have larger families. (This doesn’t in any way justify the basic inhumanity of the policy or how it is often enforced.)

It’s also interesting to note that on the CIA World Factbook’s ranking of “countries” by fertility rate, the bottom four spots are occupied by Singapore, Macau, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s fertility rate is 1.11, compared with 1.55 for mainland China.

All of these places are predominantly Chinese in ethnicity and culture. Two (or three, depending on your point of view) of them are actually part of China. None of them has the one-child policy—just the opposite in Singapore’s case.

It’s misleading to compare the demographics of small city-states with the world’s largest country for the same reasons Matt Yglesias recently explained in reference to D.C. These places also have density concerns that China doesn’t.

On the other hand, it’s generally been the case that when societies become more urbanized and affluent—both currently goals of the Chinese government—birthrates drop. Beijing and Shanghai are currently the Chinese regions with the lowest fertility rates.

So as China gets richer and more urban, and mainland cities start to look more like the autonomous ones, it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll see a big increase in births, no matter how many children people are legally allowed to have.



Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Photos of the Crowds That Took Over NYC for the People’s Climate March

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

I Wrote a Novel Envisioning a Nigerian Space Program. Then I Learned Nigeria Actually Has One.

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
Business Insider
Sept. 22 2014 9:39 AM Adrian Peterson Has a Terrible Contract, and Cutting Him Would Save the Vikings a Lot of Money
The Eye
Sept. 22 2014 9:12 AM What Is This Singaporean Road Sign Trying to Tell Us?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 7:47 AM Predicting the Future for the U.S. Government The strange but satisfying work of creating the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends report.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 5:30 AM MAVEN Arrives at Mars
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.