Population Control

What’s the problem?

One of the largest issues China has faced over the last 50 years is population control. It has not only affected the economy, but also family structure and the environment. As of 2017, China has the largest population in the world at 1.42 billion (Maverick). While they may have the largest population, it is predicted by the United Nations Department of Economic Affairs that by 2030 the number of Chinese citizens over 65 years of age would soar to 219 million and will make up an entire quarter of the population by 2050 (Clarke). This skew in population age is in large due to the one child policy that was put into place in 1979. This was done because they thought the extremely fast growth of the country’s population was hindering its economic development. Not only was there a policy for only one child per family, the government also put birth control programs and economic incentives for families with less children into place (Maverick).

Is population control a new concept?

This actually wasn’t the first time China had seen an attempt to control population growth. In 1949 Mao Zedong tried to encourage citizens to have as many children as possible to build up “manpower.” There was no official policy instated but there were bans on certain contraceptive imports and propaganda that discouraged the use of contraceptives. This push to procreate led to the population doubling in only a few years (Clarke). In 1949, China’s population was at 541 million and by the end of the 70’s it had reached 830 million (Ke). The result was a huge strain on the food supply and the government was forced to remove the anti-contraceptive messages. This food shortage caused the death of 15 to 30 million people and is known as the “Great Chinese Famine” (Clarke).

What did the Policy mean to families?

Under this One Child Policy, families had to jump through many hoops to even be approved to have one child, let alone multiple. Married couples were required to apply for a family planning service certificate after becoming pregnant. This certificate required more than 16 official stamps from completely different entities. It also meant that all of the mothers information such as, name, address, ID number were posted on a public bulletin board and was the governments way to keep track of “the wombs in China.” If the parents were unsuccessful in acquiring the certificate before the child’s birth, the hospital would refuse to issue a birth certificate and there wouldn’t be any legal record of the child’s birth. Beyond one child, if a woman became pregnant or wanted to register a second child, it was common for the woman to be required to have an IUD inserted before the child would be legitimate (Maverick). Other potential punishments for families who had multiple children during the one child policy included, incurring fines, sterilizations, or abortions (Clarke). Another extremely intrusive aspect of this “policy” is that the government encouraged neighborhood watches to report and suspicions of unregistered children. However, the most surprising was that authorities went so far to put a collective punishment for work units and if a couple at a government affiliated place of employment had more than one child, each person that worked in their unit lost the annual bonus (Maverick)!

The fate of the One Child Policy and worldly implications

The Once Child Policy was abolished in 2016 because the government finally realized that it now had the opposite problem with an aging population, a workforce that was diminishing too quickly, and a male dominated society (Maverick). China faces an aging population that has an increasing problem of dementia. The birthrate went from 5.81 in 1970 to 2.75 in 1979 and was lower than the world average by 2013 at 1.55 (Ke). Before the policy was completely abolished it was “relaxed” in 2013. This allowed the potential for 12 million families to apply to have a second child, but only 12% of these families applied (Clarke). While China faced the negative ramifications of the one child policy, it seems that low birth rates are actually a global trend, specifically in the US, Canada, Chile, Brazil, Russia and Australia. National Geographic predicts that by 2100 one fourth of all of the earth’s population will be over 65. To put it into perspective, in 1950, the global population over 65 years of age was only five percent! So even though, the One Child Policy had a dramatic affect on China, it seems that low birth rates are an issue for the world to consider. This issue is more about the size of the aging population compared to the youth.


Kaylyn McElroy

MBA 2019


CLARKE, AILEEN. “See How the One-Child Policy Changed China.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 1 Mar. 2016, news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/11/151113-datapoints-china-one-child-policy/.

Ke, Qing et al. “China’s shift from population control to population quality: Implications for neurology” Neurology vol. 87,8 (2016): e85-8.

Maverick, J.B. “A Look at How China Controls Its Population.” Investopedia, Investopedia, 25 Oct. 2018, www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/081715/look-how-china-controls-its-population.asp.