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The History Of Population Control Policies Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 4575 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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50. Internationally, demographics will drive future economic growth. It is becoming evident that economies with burgeoning young populations have a distinct advantage in the economic-growth race, as nations saddled with ageing citizens like Japan and several in Europe struggle to grow at rates above zero. The problems of population and demographics are vastly different in Asia at present. Though China still leads the population pack, India’s population could outstrip China’s by 2040. China’s present working age population will age by then and create a different set of labour related problems. Asia in general and China in particular faces the unusual demographic challenge of a severe gender imbalance. While women outnumber men by seven percent in Europe and by about 3.4% in North America, the situation in Asia is exactly the opposite. This is likely to have far reaching social and political ramifications. [1] 

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51. China has undergone enormous social, economic, and political changes over the past 50 years, but many of the issues that Chinese society faces today are also closely connected to past demographic change. Because of the rapid and extensive fertility declines in China in the past 30 years, the country’s rate of population growth has slowed considerably. The country’s population of 1.3 billion in the early 2000s is projected to grow by another 100 million by 2050. China covers about the same geographic area as the United States, although its population is nearly five times greater. However, because of rugged mountains in the west and vast desert areas in central China, the population is concentrated within a surprisingly small area. Rapid population growth during the 20th century helped shape China’s society in myriad ways as China concurrently struggled with the breakdown of its dynastic structure, world wars, civil wars, and the founding of a new nation. [2] The 20th century was a time of momentous changes for the Chinese people, and demographic change was very much a part of their social and political transformation.

Political Change

52. China’s population has undergone massive change since the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. When the Chinese Communists formed the new government, there were roughly half a billion Chinese. Millions of peasants lived in abject poverty, subject to unstable political conditions. China had endured a civil war, war with Japan, serious flooding, famine and social and political turmoil .China’s new leaders were determined to reduce poverty and stabilise the political situation. The founders of the PRC implemented state control of the economy and all means of production in an effort to reduce poverty and expand access to the country’s resources. [3] China has come a long way since the Mao era when sex was officially a matter of doing one’s reproductive duty for the state. After the communist takeover in 1949, Mao encouraged high birth rates to expand the labour force and

build a new country. [4] Some of the demographic change can be attributed to the transition from the social, political, and economic unrest of the early 20th century to relative stability. But much of the mortality and fertility change emanated from government actions that directly or indirectly initiated demographic change. After Mao’s death, a rethink in China led to a policy to restrict the population growth.

Population Dynamics

53. China’s mortality has declined dramatically over the past 50 years, especially in the early years of the People’s Republic. The official death rate in 1953 was 14 deaths per 1,000 people. The official death rate had dropped below eight by 1970and below seven by 2000. China’s mortality fell in part thanks to increased stabilityand public order, a new public distribution system to ensure food for all, a government policy to narrow disparities in income and resources and massive public health programs. China’s mortality decline was interrupted at several points by temporary but often severe disruptions tied to political, economic, or social changes. The most notable being the ‘Great Leap Forward’, which caused one of the largest famines in human history and led to the death of more than 30 million people. [5] 

Fertility Decline

54. Between the 1960s and the 1980s, China experienced one of the most rapid and impressive declines in fertility ever recorded in a national population, in just 15 years, the total fertility rate (TFR, the number of children a woman would have assuming current age-specific birth rates) fell from around six children per woman to just over two children per woman. Other Asian countries including Thailand and South Korea have also seen dramatic fertility declines, but stretched over some 40 years. Fertility began to decline in the 1950s and 1960s as the Chinese government began to pay attention to urban fertility rates. Fertility declines accelerated in the 1970s and early 1980s, influenced by government birth planning policies that began in the 1970s and became more restrictive by 1980. Although China has made the transition from high to low birth and death rates, each year the number of births exceeds the number of deaths by about nine million. This is due to population momentum of the very large group of women, now in their peak childbearing years, resulting in many births, without necessarily raising the total fertility rate. Currently, the TFR is 1.82 births per woman. In 2001, the average was estimated at 1.98 in rural areas and 1.22 in urban areas, which is even below the replacement level of 2.1. The Chinese government also mandated and enforced late marriage as a way to lower fertility and slow population growth. By delaying marriage and childbearing, the state has been able to lengthen the gap between generations, lower national fertility, and slow overall population growth. One study estimated that the rise in age at marriage accounted for eight percent of the reduction in the number of births between 1950 and 1970 and 19 percent of the reduction between 1971 and 1980, avoiding about 100 million births. [6] 

Population Control Policies

55. China’s fertility decline has been supported by some of the world’s most

restrictive national birth planning policies. The most strict and controversial policy (the “one-child campaign”) began in 1979. In the early days of the PRC, the government argued that China needed a large population to bolster its political strength and provide labor for economic development. In the mid-1950s, fears that excessive growth would hinder economic development and a desire to improve maternal and child health led the government to reverse its position and look for ways to control population growth. Rural areas were of particular concern because they accounted for more than 75 percent of all population growth. These concerns frame the backdrop of China’s notorious one-child campaign, launched in 1979. The campaign initially required that all couples have no more than one child and that couples apply for official approval before conceiving a child. Compliance was encouraged through a system of rewards and punishments.62 The government hoped these methods would hold the overall population size to 1.2 billion by the year2000.

One Child Policy

56. Details of what the one child policy involved and how it was to be

implemented have varied at different times. The aim was to curtail population growth, perhaps to 1.1 billion and certainly to 1.2 billion, by the year 2000. It was hoped that third and higher order births could be eliminated and that about thirty per cent of couples might agree to forego having a second child. It was argued that the sacrifice of second or third children was necessary for the sake of future generations. People were to be encouraged to have only one child, through a package of financial and other incentives, such as preferential access to housing, schools, and health services. Discouragement of larger families included financial levies on each additional child and sanctions, which ranged from social pressure to curtailed career prospects for those in government jobs. Despite achieving the desired rates of fertility and population control and a perceptible shift from stringent measures, Chinese citizens are still obliged to strictly limit the number of children they bear. [7] 

57. In some of the largest and most advanced cities like Shanghai, sizeable proportions of couples choose to have only one child. Generally both adults work full-time. The housing allocation, which was only 3.6 square metres per person in 1977 [8] , is still stiflingly limited. In most families, at least one member is employed in the state sector and susceptible to government direction. As a result, it was not long before ninety per cent of couples in urban areas were persuaded to restrict their families to a single child. Rural families, however, were more difficult to convince. Peasants with limited savings and without pensions needed children to support them in their old age. As married daughters moved into their husband’s families, a son was essential. More than one was definitely preferred. Local authorities were thus forced to rely on fines for higher order births. They also turned to stringent birth control campaigns, which, in the policy’s earlier years, resulted in considerable numbers of women being bullied into abortions and sterilisation. [9] 

58. The birth-planning program has come under fire from critics within and outside of China on the grounds that the program disregards human rights. Many Chinese citizens continue to resist the policy. Most critics acknowledge that fertility control is necessary to limit population growth, but insist that such control does not have to be as harsh as it is now. Even the Chinese government admits that there have been instances and periods of coercion surrounding women’s reproductive decisions. But some also stress that the Chinese view of population control differs from the Western perspective, and should not be judged by Western values. In many countries, programs are called “family planning” programs to emphasise the dissemination of information and technology that allows couples or individuals to plan how many children to have and when to have them. China’s program is more accurately named a “birth planning” or “population planning” program, reflecting the theory that human procreation and material production (the two kinds of production often referred to in Chinese discussions of birth planning) must be in balance in a socialist society. Birth planning is thus considered a societal effort rather than an individualised process. [10] 

Ageing Population

59. Brahma Chellaney. Asian Juggernaut. HarperCollins Publishers, Thomson Press, 2006,p 31. China is today facing potentially serious demographic problems as a result of its past population policies. Two things stand out about China’s situation in the early years of the 21st century. One is that it is in a ‘demographic sweet spot’, with a rapidly rising working-age population as a result of sharp falls in infant mortality two to three decades ago. Just over a tenth of China’s population (11% in 2004) is ‘elderly’, aged sixty and above. The second thing is that this situation will not last. By 2015 China will have a declining working-age population. By 2040 nearly a third of all Chinese will be aged 60 and over. Central demographic projections of the United Nations indicate that there will be an 18% reduction in the working-age population by 2050. There will therefore be more than 400 million Chinese people over 60 with 100 million of them aged 80 and above by 2050. [11] China today is very different from that at the height of socialism. Most people in China have neither pension provision nor health-care coverage. The bare-foot doctors of the Mao era were victims of economic reform. Only a tiny minority of the rural population now has access to government-funded health care, further increasing problems for the aged.

60. China is confronting unique population related challenges. Its population is beginning to age at a much lower income level (earlier stage of economic development) than industrial countries. Today China is still relatively poor, but its median age is comparable with the international average. According to a 2006 report from the Deutsche Bank’s research department, other countries have reached a similar age bracket as China’s today of 32-34 years at a much higher income per capita and thus at a later stage in their economic development.63

61. All these factors imply three possible consequences. One, China is likely to grow old before it becomes rich. Two, China’s pension system (a social necessity due to socialist past) faces a demographic time bomb, with the Deutsche Bank report citing an IMF assessment that the transition to a more sustainable pension system is likely to cost well in excess of S 100 billion. And three, a shrinking labour force in the looming demographic scenario could seriously damage China’s economic prospects, prodding wary foreign investors away from the emergent risks in China. [12] 

62. China’s demographic trends hold several adverse implications for its economy. With a rapidly ageing population and a shrinking workforce, tax revenue will contract, while expenditure on pensions and health care will undermine China’s fiscal position. Various estimates by private sector economists and World Bank officials suggest that the government’s accumulated “net implicit pension debt” could balloon to 75 to110 per cent of GDP. China’s expenditure on retirement pensions increased by 37.4 times in between 1982 and 2000. Also, a decline in the working-age group would squeeze labour supply, fuelling wage growth and eroding the country’s economic competitiveness. Already, in the Yangtze and Pearl River Deltas, where manufacturing activity is the densest, labour shortages have appeared. In 2004, for example, Guangdong Province had to raise the mandatory minimum wage by as much as seventeen per cent to attract workers from other regions. To hire and retain skilled workers, many foreign-invested enterprises routinely pay above the minimum wage. [13] This will surely but steadily erode China’s price competitiveness that has been the backbone of its economic development.

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63. The combination of China’s ageing population, a weak pensions and healthcare system and the one-child policy has also given rise to the so called 4-2-1 problem’, wherein China’s youth will have to take on the burden of caring and providing for two parents and four grandparents. [14] Given the increases in life expectancy, people are also likely to spend more years caring for elderly parents. In 1990, a 40 year-old urban resident would expect to live an average of 12.5 years with either younger dependents (children) or older dependents (parents). In 2030, an urban 40-year-old can expect to live an average of 17.2 years supporting older or younger dependents.

Skewed Sex-Ratio

64. One of the most striking trends revealed by the 2000 census is the growing numerical imbalance between boys and girls. Normally, between 103 and 106 boys are born for every 100 girls. The sex ratio then decreases and evens out, as the children grow older, since mortality is higher among boys than girls. In China, the sex ratio at birth has increased from 107 boys for 100 girls in 1982 to 111 in 1989 and 117 in 2000. The ratio is much higher for higher order births, being 152 and 160 respectively for second and third births. This has led to a surplus of boys in the child population, with the proportion of boys below age 10 that are five to fifteen percent above the normal levels. The corresponding shortage of girls accrued over the last twenty years is close to ten million. [15] China retains traits of a patriarchal, Confucian society in which girls and women still occupy a marginal position. Sons are preferred for a number of reasons. Girls have become undesirable because, due to birth control policies, they prevent their parents from having a son. These figures thus reflect one of the dreadful consequences of the one-child policy, the abortion of female foot uses. They may also reflect female infanticide. [16] The shortage of girls will reinforce China’s demographic problems, eventually reducing the number of marriageable women. By 2020, as many as 40 million men of marriageable age in mainland China may have td do without wives. This phenomenon has historically led to fanning of jingoistic nationalism as well as aggravation of social problems including crime, prostitution and sex tourism. [17] Gender imbalance has played a role in igniting social unrest in the past, with bands of surplus bachelors turning to brigandage and insurrection. [18] A Beijing power struggle between cautious old technocrats and aggressive young nationalists being decided by mobs of rootless young men demanding uniforms, rifles and a chance to liberate Taiwan76, is not entirely an implausible scenario.

65. Another related problem of the gender imbalance arises from the fact that the

shortage of brides also means an impending shortage of daughter-in-laws. While it is the son who bears the responsibility for caring for his aged parents in Chinese culture (much like that in India), it is the daughter-in-law who actually does the caring. [19] This along with the appreciable rise in the aged population will place a tremendous load on the entire socio-economic security structure for the elderly in China.

Population and the Environment

66. China’s rapid transformation from an agriculture-based economy to the

world’s manufacturing workshop has been accompanied by a corresponding change in the spatial concentration and location of the population from relatively low-density rural areas to very high-density urban areas. This transformation is having a significant impact on the environment’s ability to absorb the waste by-products deposited in the air, water and soil. [20] China will face serious environmental challenges in the decades ahead. China is now the world’s largest emitter of green house gases (GHGs), responsible for over 20% of annual C02 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, although emissions per capita are still low relative to most developed countries. Eighty percent of these emissions come from burning coal, China’s predominant energy source. China’s air quality also suffers from other pollutants, such as particulate matter, which cloud the air and have negative health effects. [21] China’s rapid economic growth has transformed China’s once past or all and into the most polluted landmass in the world. China has 16 of the world’s 20cities with the worst air quality. [22] 

67. Apart from air pollution, China faces the dual problems of water scarcity and pollution. With 20% of the world’s population, China has less than 7% of the world’s fresh water resources. The country’s water resources have declined due to high demand, inefficient use and decreasing natural supplies. Moreover, water pollution has seriously impacted water quality throughout the country. [23] In most of mainland China, human and industrial waste is dumped untreated into rivers, lakes, and the ocean. Alarmingly high levels of fecal and toxic pollutants in many areas render the water unsafe for drinking and for many other uses. More than 20 percent of China’s nearly 880 major rivers are so polluted that they cannot be used even for irrigation. The quality of drinking water in many cities, is far below state standards for human consumption. According to a 1996 study, only six of China’s 27 largest cities had safe drinking water. The shortage of useable water throughout China is getting worse. Water tables are rapidly declining, and some areas of China are likely to face severe water shortages in the future, leading to serious health, economic and social consequences.

68. As cities and industries expand, soil erosion, deforestation, and desertification are becoming more widespread. China is losing farmland and grasslands to urbanisation. This loss of arable land poses serious challenges to the country’s ability to feed itself in the future. Some researchers have argued that the combination of pollution, desertification, population growth, and rising food consumption will inevitably produce a food crisis in China that will affect the entire world.83

69. Population increase, on the whole, is not responsible for China’s environmental problems. However, the demographic changes in the past three decades have resulted in the prevalent environmental outcomes. It is clear that unless China pays focused attention to its already serious environmental issues, the resultant social upheavals will seriously impact the country’s economic and political stability.

The Rise of Ethnic Identity

70. Although China is often described as being ethnically homogenous, there is considerable ethnic diversity within the country’s borders. China’s government recognises 56 official “nationalities” or ethnic groups. These 56 nationalities make up 9 percent of the country’s total population, or about 105 million people, the remaining 91 percent are Han Chinese. Most ethnic groups have been growing both in numbers and in proportion to the Han majority. This growth stems largely from the rising number of people choosing to identify themselves as members of ethnic minorities. Many minority groups have increasing contact with counterpart minority communities who live outside China’s borders. For example, Muslims in northwestern China have strong ties with Muslims in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and other countries along the border. Hmong groups in Laos, Thailand, and other countries in Southeast Asia have regular contact with the Hmong (called Miao) within China. The growing ethnic and linguistic groups pose a serious challenge to China’s national identity. China’s central government is struggling to balance the advantages of a multiethnic society with the possibility that these groups and their international contacts might pose a threat to Beijing’s hold on the nation.84

71. Issues of ethnic identification have begun to emerge among even the Han. The Han comprise eight distinct linguistic groups, including Mandarin, Cantonese, and Hokkien-Taiwanese. Even though the government classifies all of them as Han, these groups increasingly see themselves as separate from other Han groups. More people are using their group’s local languages rather than the national putonghua (Mandarin). Seemingly innocent ‘regional’ fault lines are increasingly taking a potentially dangerous ‘ethnic’ overtone. These ethnic groups have now started asserting their own interests, even if they conflict with the interests of the national government.85

72. The relevant population and demography related statistics of China are placed at Appendix S.


73. China has experienced dramatic economic growth and success since moving towards a market economy. China’s population and demography control policies can be seen as major contributors to this unprecedented success. However, China is now facing the consequences of unduly low fertility rates and large-scale urbanisation. An increasing aged population resulting in social pressures and the reduction in labour with the consequent rise in wages, is threatening the socioeconomic fabric of the entire Chinese model. These social issues are likely to get further aggravated by food insecurity, gender imbalance, increasing sub-nationalism and severe environmental problems. Water pollution and scarcity are also likely to have far reaching social and economic consequences.

74. The ‘authoritarian’ Chinese state depends heavily on social satisfaction for its legitimacy. Population and demography present challenges that will question this legitimacy, thus affecting both economic as also political stability.


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