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Analysis Of China's One Child Policy

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2512 words Published: 1st May 2017

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During the mid 1900s, China’s population was growing at an alarming rate, increasing by at least 2 or more percent each year (Potts 2006:361). Estimated to reach 1.3 billion by the year 2000, Chinese government officials were worried that such extreme growth would serve to harm the potential for future economic growth. Even maintaining acceptable living standards was becoming difficult, with much of the population living in poverty. It was clear that action had to be taken in order to rapidly slow the growth at which China’s population was expanding. Fertility rates-the average number of children born per woman-needed to drastically decrease so that China would be able to develop as a country able to have influence on a world scale. The One-Child Policy was created and put into action in 1979 in an attempt to limit the number of offspring that families could produce. The majority of families were restricted to bearing only one child, reducing the size of each subsequent generation. Attempts to abide by these laws has led to many potential children being aborted, and many others being put up for adoption. Further impacting the fates of these children is China’s long standing traditional preference for boys. Many female children have been selectively aborted or put up for adoption, so that families can have another chance at producing a son. The One-Child Policy has been the determinant of two very significant parts of my family. At four years old, my cousin Emma was born. When I was five, she joined our family. Four years later, Darci arrived. Neither girl was born into a Canadian family, nor do they bear any physical resemblances to their parents. Both adopted by my aunt and uncle as infants, my cousins became part of our family as a result of China’s one-child policy. The majority of others in their adoptive groups are also girls. In my paper, I am going to explore the consequences of China’s One-Child policy, especially focusing on gender roles, and how the policy has impacted the way in which individuals of different genders are valued and treated. I will analyze the effects that the policy has had based on familial desires, economical incentives, and educational goals. Finally, I will comment on how the policy must be adapted if China wishes to maintain control over its population, both in terms of growth and citizen compliance.

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Traditionally, Chinese culture has followed a very patriarchal structure. As in most countries, males were more valued than females and took on the responsibilities of providing for his family. Women were submissive to the men in the household, and when a marriage occurred, it was the bride’s duty to leave her birth family in order to become a part of her new husband’s (Deutsch 2006:367). In 1979, and even today, many families are of the mindset that a son is more valuable to them than a daughter. Allowed only one offspring, a son is often the more desirable choice for households (ibid:367). There are a few reasons for this. Especially in China, the male’s ability to carry on the family name is a major factor. As many women take on their husband’s last name upon marriage, her maiden name ceases to be a part of her, in practical usage. If a family is allowed to have multiple children, one daughter does not necessarily mean that the family lineage will be discontinued. There is always the possibility for a new son to be born, able to represent the family name his entire life. However, when this option is taken away, many couples feel increased pressure to bear a son on the first try. The development of ultrasound technology in recent years allows couples to learn the gender of their child before it is born. Although this can be an advantage in many ways, knowledge of a female daughter means that there is an opportunity to abort the pregnancy before its advanced stages. While I am not going to comment on the moral issues associated with the abortion itself, frequent abortions of female fetuses has led to a severe imbalance of girls and boys. This will be discussed in more detail later.


There is also an economical incentive to take into account here. No different from many other places, males tend to earn higher salaries than females and obtain jobs in more skilled and demanding work placements. While this was not an effect created by the One-Child Policy, the differences in employment between men and women began to increase around the same time as the policy was enacted. Economic reforms introduced in the 1970s gave greater independence to businesses in regards to their labour and operations policies. Rather than a goal of equal labour, businesses were now allowed to make the majority of their hiring decisions and assign what they felt were appropriate wage rates for their employees (Wang and Cai 2008:442). This only served to increase the value differential between males and females. Overall wages gradually increased over time, with males eventually taking over many of the top sector jobs and earning higher wages. A study done (ibid:444) determined that even though women make up a larger percentage of the lower three job sectors, it is still men that are taking home the greater amount. For whatever reason, whether it is for educational reasons or pure gender role discrimination, employers have a clear tendency to prefer male workers over female employees. This gender preference has translated itself into an effect on the One-Child Policy, where families desire sons more heavily than daughters. As the parents of the first generation of One-Child offspring move into retirement age, they will have only one child on whom to rely for financial support. As opposed to previous generations, in which the burden of caring for one’s parents could be split between multiple siblings, One-Child adults are faced with the burden of caring for parents individually. Granted, with fewer children to bring up, the cost of parenting is lower which allows for greater saving, however China’s lack of a substantial pension plan makes it difficult for Chinese citizens to save enough to support themselves entirely throughout retirement (Potts 2006: 361). Nor do children have the option of defecting care of their parents to a third party: Article 21 of the Marriage Law of the People’s Republic of China (1980) specifically renders children with “the duty to support and assist their parents”. This forces only children to bear both the fiscal and social responsibilities of caring for their elderly parents. While it is not ludicrous to ask a child to care for a parent, the One-Child Policy simply intensifies this responsibility, especially if the child is not in substantial financial situation for only him or herself. A daughter, hurt with the plausibility of a lower paying workplace, is more likely to have a harder time supporting her parents than a son would, more able to obtain a financially lucrative position.

For these reasons, among others, Chinese couples often weight the value of a son as higher than that of a daughter. However, the higher value placed on male children causes many potential daughters to be aborted, abandoned as infants, or put up for adoption (Martinez 2008:86). Since the one child policy was enacted in 1979, there has been a gradual, but significant, increase in the ratio of males to females, with approximately 33 million more boys than girls under 20 reported in the 2005 census (Nature 2009:1). The shortage of women available to wed leaves many potential grooms unable to find matches, affecting the lives of many Chinese citizens. The One-Child Policy negatively affects Chinese society in this manner, as well as intensifying gender stereotypes that have been persistent in the history of the Chinese people. On the other hand, couples that do end up bearing only one daughter tend to internalize an alternate set of perceptions than those with a single son.


Despite the frequent prejudices held against females in China, daughters brought up in an only child environment often receive certain advantages. In families of multiple children, with both girls and boys, girls were often treated as lesser family members. With largely predetermined plans, most women did not maintain a prominent position in their birth families through most of their adult life. Instead they would commit themselves to their husband’s lives, integrating themselves into his family and adopting their new roles as wives and daughters-in-law. These temporary statuses often ‘devalued’ daughters in the eyes of their birth families and therefore they were often denied certain opportunities and privileges than their male counterparts (Deutsch 2008:368). Although this specific mindset may be mostly outdated today, statistics show that women still tend to receive less education than men. The Chinese census taken in the year 2000 reflected a difference of approximately 1.1 years of schooling between the sexes (Cai and Wang 2008:443). However, couples that raise only one female child have only one child to rely on during their old age. As lesser schooling often leads to a lesser wage, and given the likelihood of females to earn a lower wage no matter what, parents of single daughters are more likely to invest more time and effort into their education than they might otherwise. Though still not expected to receive a higher level of education than boys, surveys taken in the late 1990s and early 2000s indicated a strong desire for equal education of both sexes (Cai and Wang 2008:443). There is a possibility that this could just be the reflection of the evolution of gender perceptions, though it is very likely that in China at the very least, the One-Child Policy had some effect on this new mentality. As touched upon earlier, the Policy forces elderly parents to rely on a single child for support in their old age. Having the option of relying solely on a female child with a lesser degree of education points towards a less lucrative financial future. A parent’s desire for a more stable financial future may lead to the provision of a higher degree of education for his or her only daughter. Further adding onto the instability of a parent’s retirement well being is the fear of losing a daughter to the family of her husband. Without the possibility of additional children to depend on, parents of only daughters are less willing to give up their only child to the household of another family, and therefore tend to value self-sufficiency and education more, promoting increased gender equality. From this perspective, China’s One-Child Policy creates both negative and positive effects.

The Future of the Policy

Numerous times in recent years, spokespeople for the National Population and Family Planning Commission of China have stated that the current family planning policy will not be revoked within the near future (Family Planning 2009:1). As a country with an estimated 1.3 billion people at the close of 2010, an efficient tactic for preventing overexpansion is a necessary component of national policy. The One-Child policy is still considered to be of the utmost importance for maintaining effective population control. However, as it currently exists, it is vital that a re-evaluation and revision of the policy take place. A 2009 survey indicated a desire for the allowance of second children by approximately 78% of the population (Family Planning 2010:1). As China’s population continues to grow, it will be increasingly difficult to ensure that the policy is followed properly. Already, the policy has become harder to enforce, as the independence and wealth of the Chinese people continues to escalate (Hesketh, Lu and Xing 2005:17). The development of the country is such that the One-Child policy may not be practically feasible very shortly. An adaptation is necessary in order to upkeep the efficiency of the policy. In fact, those responsible for the policy seem to have already become aware of this. In 2002, while no major changes were made to its fundamentals elements, specific aspects of the policy were softened gently. Influenced by rising tensions between the Chinese government and its people, the strict quotas based around reproduction were done away with and couples no longer need to obtain permission to have their child (ibid:21). This was a positive step towards the future long-term continuation of the policy.

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In addition to the concerns of enforcement, there are other worrying issues surrounding the policy. As mentioned earlier, the insufficient numbers of females below 20 years of age is alarming. By the year 2020, it is estimated that the difference between men and women of marriageable age will be dangerously close to the 24 million mark. Authorities from within the Population Association of China are foreshadowing a spike in the sex industry of China, including the trafficking and solicitation of prostitution and pornography (Mcleod 2010:17). This severe imbalance poses an issue that must be addressed, so as to avoid continued long term damage to Chinese citizens and society. As the disproportion increases, it will become all the more necessary for the Chinese to review their Family Planning Policy and patch up the holes that are creating these issues.


Out of all the countries in the world, China is home to the greatest number of people. Shanghai, one of its most prominent cities, recently hit a landmark population of 23 million people (CNNGO 2011:4). Its population is showing no sign of slowing down naturally any time soon. China’s rapid expansion makes a policy designated to control population a necessary element of governance. All the same, the current program working towards this goal is causing its own issues. Looking purely at the numbers, the One-Child Policy is working admirably, no doubt one of the reasons for why those in charge are hesitant to retract it. It is estimated that an astounding 250 to 300 million births have been prevented via this policy (Hesketh et al 2005:6). However, now the issues is not so much how many people make up the total population, but what people comprise it. The desire for sons has left many daughters unborn, abandoned, or put up for adoption as infants. This policy is the reason that I have two of my cousins, both girls adopted from China at a very young age, as part of my family. Through analyzing the effect that the One-Child Policy has had in the past 30 years, it is clear that in order to continue to be successful in the future, something must be done to re-balance the male-female demographic, as well as change the perception that many have of females as being less valuable than males. While an important part of Chinese government, the One-Child Policy must be adapted if it wishes to remain effective.


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