China One Child Policy Facts

Families Can Now Have Two Children

Chinese Child Shopping
Little girl in China. Tang Ming Tung Creative #: 499636577 Getty

For more than 35 years, China's one-child policy limited the country's population growth. It ended after 2015, as China's demographics had been skewed due to the policy. China does not have enough young people to support the aging demographics, and due to a preference for boys, men of marrying age outnumber women. In all, there were more than 33 million men than women in China in 2016, making it difficult for men of lower socioeconomic status to marry at all.

After 2024, India is expected to become the world's most populous, when both countries' populations are expected to reach about 1.4 billion. China's population is forecast to be stable and then decline slightly after 2030, and India will keep growing.

The Background

China's one-child rule was created in 1979 by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping to temporarily limit communist China's population growth. It was in place until January 1, 2016. When the one-child policy was adopted in 1979, China's population was about 972 million people. China was expected to achieve zero population growth by 2000, but it actually achieved that seven years earlier. 

Whom It Affected

China's one-child policy most strictly applied to Han Chinese living in urban areas of the country. It did not apply to ethnic minorities throughout the country. Han Chinese represented more than 91 percent of the Chinese population. Just over 51 percent of China's population lived in urban areas.

In rural areas, Han Chinese families could apply to have a second child if the first child was a girl.

For families who observed the one-child rule, there were rewards: higher wages, better schooling and employment, and preferential treatment in obtaining governmental assistance (such as health care) and loans.

For families who violated the one-child policy, there were sanctions: fines, wage cuts, employment termination, and difficulty in obtaining governmental assistance.

Families who were permitted to have a second child usually had to wait from three to four years after the birth of the first child before conceiving their second child.

The Exception to the Rule

One major exception to the one-child rule allowed two singleton children (the only offspring of their parents) to marry and have two children. Additionally, if a first child was born with birth defects or major health problems, the couple was usually permitted to have a second child.

The Long-Term Fallout

 In 2015 China had an estimated 150 million single-child families with an estimated two-thirds of those thought to be a direct result of the policy.

China's sex ratio at birth is more imbalanced than the global average. There are about 113 boys born in China for every 100 girls. While some of this ratio might be biological (the global population ratio is currently about 107 boys born for every 100 girls), there is evidence of sex-selective abortion, neglect, abandonment, and even infanticide of infant females.

The recent peak total fertility rate for Chinese women was in the late ​1960s, when it was 5.91 in 1966 and 1967.

When the one-child rule was first imposed, the total fertility rate of Chinese women was 2.91 in 1978. In 2015, the total fertility rate had dropped to 1.6 children per woman, well below the replacement value of 2.1. (Immigration accounts for the remainder of the Chinese population growth rate.)