One Child Policy:

China’s Dilemma between Economic Growth and Population Growth in the 21st Century

Approximately 541.6 million people live in China at 1949 and it was reached out the number of approximately 1.371 billion people thirty years thereafter. Population growth could be seen as one of the priority for the government of China, even since the establishment of People’s Republic of China back in 1949 under the regime of Mao Zedong. Regarding this phenomenon, the government of People’s Republic of China play some important roles. Right after its independence, without any official program from the government, Mao Zedong encouraged the people of China to multiply its population and to create more manpower in order to stimulate China’s productivity and economic activity.

At that time, the use of contraceptives were condemned and banned by the government. In few years after that, China’s population growth emerged more enormously as the result.

The enormous amount of population that China had had not brought a long-term success. Ten years after its independence, The Chinese Great Famine appeared as the effect of Mao’s unofficial policy to stimulate the population growth of China.

At least 15 to 30 million people were died because of The Chinese Great Famine which happened in China between 1959 until 1961.

This phenomenon lead the government to change its policy and spread the campaign of anti-contraceptive which was quite contrary with the previous unofficial policy risen by Mao Zedong in 1949.

The anti-contraceptive campaign that had been begun in 1960s was followed by another government policy regarding its phenomenon of population growth. Since 1979 China has been known for its government policy related to their population control namely One Child Policy. The implementation of One Child Policy itself begin under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970's since he put his serious effort in accordance to China’s phenomenon in that era, overpopulation.

One Child Policy as China’s government program was announced in 1978 and it was encouraged families to have no more than two children, in other words one child is suggested and more preferable. In the next year, the demand grew from the society for making the limit: one child for each family.

However, it was then applied unevenly across the country and finally by 1980 the government sought to standardize the implementation of the One Child Policy nationwide in China.

In response to that particular policy, Chinese Communist Party expressed their support for One Child Policy using a public letter to call upon all people of China to adhere to that policy on September 25, 1980. It also remarks the official start date for One Child Policy.

After four decades of the implementation, the population growth of China has finally decrease. Besides, China has been came up to the international arena as an emerging power with its enormous economic activity and productivity. In this article I would like to examine the reasons which made One Child Policy become such a dilemma for China in this 21st century, before the government has adjusted the policy into Two-Child Policy in 2016.

Malthusian Population Theory and Human Capital Theory

Malthusian Population Theory was introduced by Thomas Robert Malthus in his famous book, “Essay on the Principle of Population” which was published in 1798. He is the first economist who found a systematic theory of population. Malthus found the principle which depicted that human population grows exponentially, which in other words is “doubling with each cycle” while the food production grows at an arithmetic rate by the repeated addition adjunct of a uniform in each uniform interval of time.

While the food output would likely to increase in a series of twenty years intervals in the arithmetic progression like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and so on; the population was capable of increase with the geometric progression like 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, and so forth. By projecting this, the arithmetic food growth with simultaneous geometric human population growth could be used as a prediction for a future when human would have no resources to survive on. As the response in accordance to avoid a plausible calamity, Malthus encouraged controls on population growth.

Based on this theory, the appearance of One Child Policy in the late 1970s could be best understood because of the phenomenon that happened in China between 1949 and 1979 regarding its enormous population growth under Mao Zedong regime right after China’s independence. It might be an idiosyncratic of Deng Xiaoping to initiate the policy on population control, but it also could be seen as a side-effect of the situation on that era and Deng Xiaoping would like to tackle up the potential problem which might be appeared on the future.

To see the relevancy of One Child Policy, we could derived to Human Capital Theory which was introduced by Gary Becker. Human Capital Theory’s assumption is substantially people differ in their economic well being and both tangible and intangible resources are important in shaping a great economic growth. On this matter, the amount of people living in China could be classified as one of the tangible resource.

However, in terms of structural reform, the basis for nation state structural policy framework under Human Capital Theory is the enhancement. The subject that is been needed to enhance is the population of a state and it could be best manifested by raising skill levels of state’s population towards education and employment schemes to balancing the gap between economic growth and population growth. Based on this theory, the enhancement of population growth from one state is needed to balancing its economic growth. Unfortunately, One Child Policy is quite contrary with Human Capital Theory’s assumption.

A Dilemma: Low Fertility and Economic Growth of China

In 2015, a research which done by 50 researchers from 39 countries show that China already face a super-low fertility which the total fertility rate reach only 1.5 births or even less. It is below the normal fertility rate from another countries which usually reach 2.5 until 3.0 births or more. This could be seen as a successful policy if we trace back to the era when this policy was brought up to control the massive population growth in 1960s. But it’s not relevant anymore nowadays because of two main reasons.

First of all, by implementing this policy China had already set a goal to decrease its rapid population growth which if it is not tackled by this kind of population policy, China will face several problems regarding the population such as poverty, food security, and massive unemployment. But, the government of China did not set a goal or limitation for how long this policy should be implemented until they came into a decision of adjustment to Two-Child Policy in 2016.

As stated before, the number of China population now is below the normal rate from another country. However, the One Child Policy still exist in China and been implemented nationwide until 2015. This phenomenon is not only become a trend but a policy which legally binding for all couples in China. As the effect, up until now China has a lot of excess number of elderly people and less youngsters.

Secondly, the government of China seems like paying less attention on the fact that the situation in 21st century is more dynamic, taking into consideration that the economic growth of China is boosting from year to year and there are so many demands from international market for China’s product. But since the One Child Policy still exist until 2015, the number of workers as the engine for China’s productivity in economic sectors has begun to decline.

This is the matter, if China still not realizing this reality, its economic growth could be slower for a long run. In line with that, the rapid population aging will make it more difficult to find and supply the suitable program for elderly people in China and the deteriorating public finances could affect the resources available for children as well.

Based on the Human Capital Theory, it could be best if China adjusted its policy on controlling population growth in its state due to the current phenomenon that happen in China. Especially, nowadays, China emerges as one of the great powers in international arena related to its economic activities and often known as abnormal great powers.

After an issue had appeared in the late 2015 which questioned the transformation from One Child Policy into Two-Child Policy is possible or not for China, the government finally decided to do so in the following year.

China’s government created a population-control policy to bear the rapid population growth in China four decades ago. Due to the two reasons, One Child Policy could be seen such a dilemma for China until the government decided to adjust it. Without a clear limitation on how long the One Child Policy should be implemented, it had became such a bias policy and seems like an obsolete one meanwhile on the fact it is depicted that the situation in 21st century is more dynamic and there is an imbalance growth between China’s population growth which is going to slower with China’s economic growth which is being higher annually.

Therefore, the government of China should recognize that continuing an obsolete population-control policy might failed to respond to China’s current demographic and economic growth realities and their way of adjusting it into the Two-Child Policy remain unclear for the foreseeable future.

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