November 15, 2013

Will the end of China’s one-child policy shift its boy-girl ratio?

FT_sex-ratios-at-birthThe Chinese government on Friday said it would relax its decades-old one-child policy, which has led to one of the most skewed sex ratios at birth in the world. Boys naturally outnumber girls at birth (by about 107 to 100 globally), but in China there are about 118 boys born for every 100 girls born today.

Sex-selective abortion is likely a big factor explaining the high share of baby boys born. The high sex ratio may also relate to reporting practices — it may be the case that parents don’t report the births of some baby girls to the government, in the hopes that they can “try again” and have a boy.

While son preference remains a strong cultural norm in China, it will be interesting to see if the loosening of the one-child policy will lead to an increasing share of baby girls in the country.

How will the move towards a two-child policy affect overall fertility in China? While it’s difficult to know for sure, it’s worth looking back to see how the implementation of the one-child policy played out.

While fertility certainly declined since the advent of the one-child policy in 1980, University of Maryland demographer Philip Cohen makes a compelling case — in one chart — that the fertility decline in China was already well underway prior to the one-child policy’s official implementation.

Chart by University of Maryland demographer Philip Cohen.

He graphs China’s “total fertility rate,” from 1961 to 2012, which is an estimation of the number of children a woman will have in her lifetime.  In the 1960s, China’s number rose to about 6. However, it declined precipitously thereafter, falling to about 2.6 — before the one-child policy was even implemented in 1980. The total fertility rate now stands at about 1.6, suggesting a woman will have about 1.6 children in their lifetime.

Fertility rates typically fall as countries become more urbanized and more economically developed. And, indeed, across Asia, even countries without a one-child policy have experienced a rapid decline in fertility rates in recent decades.

So while it’s reasonable to think a new two-child policy in China will increase fertility rates, the effects of the new policy could also be tempered by the country’s rapid economic development, urbanization and cultural change.

Topics: Birth Rate and Fertility, China, Gender

  1. Photo of Gretchen Livingston

    is a senior researcher focusing on fertility and family demographics at Pew Research Center.

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  1. holly2 years ago

    the one-child policy was actually implemented in the early 70s when the fertility rate in China started dropping sharply.

    1. ethan2 years ago

      nope, 1958 was when the one child policy began.

  2. Jenefer Les2 years ago

    I read something which I would like to share. frankly speaking it confused me but over here it might help
    “Scientists have somehow missed definitions of gender in human beings,” states Dr. Makarand Fulzele. Insights gained from years of practice as surgeon makes him wonder if indeed we have overlooked facts staring in our face. Nature has a tendency to hide many secrets but at the same time it provides enough clues to unravel its mysteries. Dr. Fulzele picks up loose threads from life to stitch together the theory that man is an extension of woman in his new book, “Man Is the Extension of Woman: Know the Ultimate Truth about Yourself” (published by iUniverse). Dr. Fulzele’s book explores similarities between men and women against the backdrop of their genetic differences, physical variations, and emotional and intellectual dissimilarities. Dr. Fulzele who is a successful surgeon further explains in his book: The main hypothesis I discuss in this book is that, if a woman lives long enough she will be converted into a man physically. A similar thing can also be stated about man. It is wrong to categorize humankind into two genders as it implicates that they are extremely dissimilar and physically opposite to each other. I try to prove that man and woman are just two different stages of one developmental process. And physically they are very similar. The ideas presented may sound unconventional but Dr. Fulzele implores readers to consider his point of view with an open mind. “Your world will not change if you do not agree with me. But if you agree with me, how does it change your world? If more people agree with you and me, how does it change our world? The possibilities are limitless.”

  3. Andy2 years ago

    The author carelessly relies on World Bank data, which is incorrect.

    Vietnam has sex ratio >110, yet its missing from the chart. Korean sex ratios have long normalized to below 107, yet it is included erroneously in the list. And where is India, Taiwan?

    The author could have drawn the simple line herself on the fertility rate chart, but relies on Philip Cohen who doesn’t deserve any credit for something so obvious and well known.

  4. Ahmed Ali2 years ago

    How ironic is the fact that people prefer more children when they are underdeveloped, and less number of children when they are more developed and urbanized.