Jonathan Last has an excellent article on China’s One-Child policy in the current issue of The Weekly Standard.
Not only is the policy unspeakably evil, of course, but what most people don’t realize is that the demographic damage it has wrought on China almost certainly will not be reversed merely by lifting it. That is to say, the One-Child policy has so devastatingly altered Chinese society that there may be no going back.
Last offers the Jiangsu province as a case study:
In modern countries with access to contraception and abortion, the theoretical upper limit on a society’s fertility rate is its “ideal fertility”—that is, the number of children women say they would like to have in a perfect world. This ideal number is always higher than achieved fertility, because parents bump into various real-world constraints. For example, although most Western countries have an ideal fertility number above 2, the only Western country with a fertility rate above 2.0 is America.
In 2006, Chinese demographers began studying the Jiangsu province, where couples are allowed to have a second child so long as one of the parents was an only child. They surveyed women who were eligible for a second child, trying to get a handle on what China’s ideal fertility number might be. Among women who could have two children if they wanted, 1.46 was the ideal number.
For the Chinese, this is the scariest number of all because it suggests that even if One-Child were lifted tomorrow, it might not matter. If One-Child has eroded not just real fertility, but even the desire of the Chinese to have children, then there is no way out. Governments have tried coaxing and coercing people into having more children than they want to for centuries and it never—literally never—works.
Be Careful What You Wish For
Those responsible for instituting China’s One-Child Policy decades ago got what they wanted: fewer births. But they also got a lot more than they wanted.
And now the question is: Can the speeding train be slowed down before it goes over the cliff?
We have to hope so, but there’s not much reason for optimism.