Fertility Rate and Population Growth in China

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The fertility rate in China is historically declined from the 1960s to today. In generally, China’s fertility rate reached the highest point as roughly 6.2 children per family in the 1960s. Start from the 1970s, the Chinese government started to implement several fertility policies for preventing overpopulation. The fertility policies effectively worked, and the rate quickly dropped. Today, the fertility rate reached the lowest point of 1.62. Many scholars stated that the number of births in China will continue to fall due to the non-marriage doctrine, and the impact of some fertility plans. Thus, this paper will roughly describe the general fertility trend of China and explain what fertility policies the government took to control China’s overpopulation.

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During the Mao era, the supreme Chinese leader between 1949 and 1976, he believed in the principle: “more people, more power.” Due to Mao’s military career and rise to power, he encouraged families to have more children in order to empower the country. During the 1950s and 1960s, China’s total fertility rate was at a level of around 5 to 6 children per woman, but economic growth was stagnated. The standard of living was discussed with terms of overpopulation during the 1970s since people were financially concerned about living with 5 to 6 children.

As a response to the rapid population growth in China, Mao acknowledged the hardships of overpopulation on many occasions. The Chinese government launched a serious family planning programmed began in the early 1970s. The first step of controlling the fertility rate could be found from Junsen Zhang (2017), as he said the conference endorsed the slogan: “Later, Longer, and Fewer.” (pg.143) Late marriage, longer birth planning, and fewer kids per family. This policy of fertility rate had been taken huge successes in controlling over-population. As showed in Figure 1, the fertility rate reached the highest point in the late 1960s, which was 5.7 children per family. Ten years later, after the government advocated each family to have few children, the rate declined to 2.32 in 1980. The record clearly states that China’s fertility rate from 1970 to 1980 was dramatically declined due to the few-children doctrine.

The Chinese fertility control announced in 1970 was technically voluntary, but later on, the government published a “one-child” policy in 1981, with numbers of coercive principles and financially penalized. As Whyte, Wang, and Cai (2015) explicitly stated: “These birth planning enforcers kept detailed records on each woman of child-bearing age under their responsibility, including past births, contraceptive usage and even menstrual cycles, in many reported instances becoming “menstrual monitors” who tried to detect out-of-quota pregnancies at an early stage.” (pg. 150)

The “one-child” policy was used to control the population, but also help the Chinese government to show their power over citizens. As consequences of the “one-child” policy with highly coercive fertility plans, it effectively controlled population growth in China. The data from Gapminder clearly state that China’s fertility rate from 1970 to 2018 was dramatically declined as we can see from Figure 2. The fertility rate of China in 1981 was 3.0; in 2012, the fertility rate declined to 1.7, which means most of the Chinese families strictly followed the “one-child” policy, they were ended up with only one child, except some families gave birth to twins. By the late 1990s, China’s fertility rate had fallen to a level below replacement. The data from the World Bank showed a TFR of 1.5 in 1999 as an even lowest fertility.

But why the population of China still dramatically grow with the “one-child” policy? From Figure 3, the data comes from The World Bank clearly showed that, from 1960 to 2018, the Chinese population was growing rapidly and dramatically from 0.6 billion to 1.393 billion, the population is doubled. Answers of China’s fast-growing population, can be found from Howden and Zhou (2015), as they said: “One prevailing view of China’s population growth is that it has always been high… China has long held this title, and even as far back as 1820 it could boast of containing more than 380 million citizens, which was more than six times the combined populations of Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States at that time.” (pg. 232) China had always been an overpopulated country, even under the “one-child” policy, the growth of population points to a relatively slowing rate to other countries, but it is not easy to restrain although China’s fertility was declined in roughly more than 40 years. Secondly, Howden and Zhou (2015) explicitly stated that life expectancies could be another contribution to the rising population in China. They described that general improvements to health care and government spend a lot to build hospitals and introduce new medical technologies, were largely reduce the risk in childbirth so that the life expectancies and the population of China could quickly grow. Under these two explanations from Howden and Zhou (2015), the phenomenon about China’s population grows quickly with several fertility plans, which can be seen as normal and making sense.

China’s one child policy is the most important step in controlling overpopulation. Although the population is still growing fast in today, but the result and effect of one-child policy cannot be totally contradicted. Everything is double-sided; thus, it is difficult to tell the one-child policy is good or bad. It restricted the human’s right of giving birth freely, but without one-child policy, the population of China will uncontrollably grow to impact the economic development in a negative way because more people need to share same amount of resources.

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