China’s One Child Policy is Changing – China’s Families Aren’t

China has had a one-child policy since 1978. It’s written into the constitution. It has been strictly enforced, through methods that include local officials in charge of monitoring birthrates, heavy fines for couples with more than one child, and social services available only to firstborn children.  Now, with the nation’s demographics permanently altered, the Chinese government would like to see more kids born. Parents, however, don’t agree.


The Washington Post ran an article yesterday about the loosening of the one-child policy. Urban residents, ethnic minorities, and couples where one partner is an only child can now have more than one child. The city of Shanghai is now aggressively working to promote more births.

But parents are not responding. According to the Washington Post, “Although officials in one rural town on the outskirts of Shanghai say they saw an uptick in applications from couples wanting a second child after the campaign was launched, the more urban districts report no change. Huinan township, with a population of 115,000, for instance, is still receiving just four to five applications a month.”

The article goes on to blame parental selfishness for the small families. One especially memorable quote from a woman in her thirties says, “We were at the center of our families and used to everyone taking care of us. We are not used to taking care of and don’t really want to take care of others.” I wonder, though, if the Post has it right. If parents really didn’t want to face the hassle of having children, they could always send them to boarding kindergarten. It can’t just be selfishness keeping family sizes small.

I have a feeling it’s the lack of social services holding parents back. China’s social safety net has been notoriously weakened by free market reforms, and household savings rates are around 20%. People are saving, frantically, for healthcare, education, and old age. Spending the money to raise a second child puts all of that at risk. That doesn’t seem selfish to me, so much as pragmatic.