RACHEL KAUFMAN WRITES – It has been seven years since China’s one-child policy was officially revoked. For so many of us in the west, this seems like light years ago; but this unique policy and stunning experiment in grandiose social engineering will be impacting Chinese society for generations. What can we learn from all this?
At the end of peak implementation, between 1986-2004, according to a 2009 study, there was an excess of 1.1 million males on the Chinese mainland. This was, of course, by central government design. Now, in 2022, there is an embarrassingly abundant cohort of men in their thirties. That means China has to be worried about declining birth rates, myriad concerns about the economy’s labor force and the future viability of certain industries.
Just as men dominate software and tech, women dominate liberal arts, nursing, and childcare. Current research suggests that there has already been a small statistical shift in gender-dominated industries. One researcher speculated that some sectors will fill quickly while others will come up seriously short. In 2020, for example, Chinese women under age 40 accounted for 70% of the cosmetics consumer market, so one might very well wonder how that gargantuan industry will overcome the realities of the gender imbalance.
When implemented in 1979, the one-child policy seemed plausible enough. It was the last attempt of the government to stall the country’s population boom, which was obviously headed past one billion. But the practical result was a cultural preference for having sons to pass on the family name, make money, be successful overall, and take the family ahead to greater lengths than a daughter could.
The questions before us today are: one, what will be the long-term consequences of the one-child policy? Two, how many decades will it take until we know? China’s one-child, one-of-a-kind policy may inform policies of countries around the globe but at the very least, the continued unfolding of China’s extraordinary and massive social control experiment first unleashed in 1979 will continue to be very closely watched not just by demographers, political scientists but, yes, parents past, present and future.