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After 36 Years, China Ends One-Child Policy

Can lifting the longtime restrictions reverse the country’s population woes?

Image by Flickr user IISG

After 36 years, China has decided to end its one-child policy, as the state-run Xinhua news agency reports. “China will allow all couples to have two children, abandoning its decades-long one-child policy,” Xinhua announced, citing a communique from the Communist Party of China (CPC).

Introduced in 1979, the one-baby policy was designed to slow China’s birthrate, holding in check a population that was then approaching 1 billion. In the decades since, the CPC has claimed that the one-baby policy has prevented 400 million births, though it has done so with some less-than-savory methods, including forced abortions, involuntary sterilizations, job loss, and fines.

Like Germany and Japan, China began to notice that its aging population — 30 percent are over 50 in a country of 1.36 billion — wasn’t being replenished by new births. And, like Western capitalist economies, China also seems to have realized that to sustain its gigantic mixed economy, it needs workers to make products but also consumers to buy them, not to mention pay for the social benefits of the elderly.

CPC began relaxing the one-baby policy in 2013 by allowing couples to have two kids if one of the two significant others was an only child. Despite the relaxation, many couples may opt for one baby because it has become the social norm, according to the BBC.

But, as the South China Morning Post noted back in 2012, citing academic studies, a two-child policy still won’t effectively boost China’s birth rate. And the methods of control won’t simply disappear under the new CPC policy.

Though it’s predictable that China would be concerned about its population getting a bounce to sustain its economy, or simply be interested in ending an unpopular policy, the fact remains that more people in China means more pressure on the planet’s natural resources through resulting overconsumption in both developed and developing nations. State-mandated population control may be unpopular, but common sense suggests that taking measures against global overpopulation is an existential and ecological necessity.

Unless, of course, global health expert Hans Rosling is correct in asserting that overpopulation is not the threat many believe it to be. Rosling, working with global data, suggests that families with two children will become the norm, ending the human population explosion. So maybe, at least in a controversial way, China is ahead of the curve.

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