China’s ruling Communist Party announced it would radically drop its infamous “one-child policy,” in a last-ditch effort to boost a shrinking workforce and aging population.
Since 1979, China has made it illegal for its citizens to have more than one child, in an effort to shrink it’s huge population. Over time, many exceptions to the rule were developed—minorities are allowed more than one child, as are people outside of cities—but it’s estimated to have prevented about 400 million births.
Incidentally, the one-child policy was a result of liberal environmental thinking: there were just too many Chinese people to be “environmentally responsible,” so the Communist Party decided to shrink the population over the next century, to about 800 million.
But, as seems to often be the case, good environmental intentions ran headlong into real world economic and social concerns.
China’s once-explosive economy—which has been slowing rapidly in recent years—now has to contend with a country where nearly 30% of the population is over 50, and aging fast due to fewer children being born. That means a considerable strain on Chinese old-age programs in coming years.
Worse, due to a cultural preference for boys—and the fact that, until recently, families could only have one child—there’s nearly 130 men for every 100 women being born. Female babies are often aborted or killed secretly as newborns.
The gender gap means that it’s harder for men to find a woman to marry, and settle down with. In a slowing economy, single men with no jobs and no family life could be an explosive source of revolution against the autocratic government.
China’s begun slowing the policy in recent years to combat these problems. Since 2013, if one parent was an only child, they could have two children. And since 2014, parents could have a second child if the first child was a daughter.
However, despite rolling back the one-child policy, it’s not clear it’ll make a difference: one-child families, over the last several decades, have become the norm.