Did the One Child Policy Matter? Probably Not.

China’s one-child policy is ending. The policy, started in 1979-80, was aimed at slowing population growth, which was much more of a concern in the late 70s than it is now. China’s one-child policy was also horribly coercive. Men bursting in and forcing miscarriages. Forced abortions for millions. Really the stuff of dystopian nightmares.

Did that coercive policy have any impact at all on population? A look at the data suggests not, or at best, not much.

China Fertility Rate vs Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapor, Korea - One Child Policy - Demographics

You can look at the data yourself here.

Two observations:

  1. China’s birth rate was already plummeting. It fell rapidly from 1965 to 1980, when the policy went into effect. For the next decade, the first decade of the one-child policy, the birth rate stayed roughly flat.
  2. Other Asian nations saw birth rates plummet as much or more. Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore – all rapidly developing, as China was – all saw their birth rates plummet. On a percentage basis, since 1980, Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam have all seen fertility drop more than in China

Now, all of these nations, and especially China, are dealing with a rapidly aging population, and a lack of young people. Ending the one-child policy, while good from the standpoint of freedom, is unlikely to substantially lift China’s birth rate.

The IMF agrees.

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