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The Chinese One Child Policy, Its Origin and Effects Research Paper

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Updated: Jan 26th, 2020


One child policy is a measure that was adopted by the Chinese government in order to control the country’s population growth. As a family planning method, the one child policy was adopted by the highly populated country to limit the number of children that married couples are allowed to have.

This paper seeks to discuss the Chinese one child policy. The paper will look into the origin of the one child policy in china, its enforcement, reaction of the Chinese people towards the policy, effects that the policy has had in china as well as possible future effects of the policy in the people’s republic of China.

The Chinese one child policy

The one child policy as adopted in the people’s republic of China was introduced in the year 1979. The aim of the Chinese one child policy was to control the country’s population which was seen as a threat to the country’s resources.

In its application of the policy, the government of China strived to persuade its citizens into accepting the policy by offering appealing incentives to people to convince them to yield to the government’s population policy. The application of the policy has also emphasized on discouraging Chinese “citizens from having more than one child” (University of Florida, 2009, p. 1)

Origin of the one child policy in china

The Chinese one child policy was a sort of condition that was meant to counter the then Chinese problem of high population growth rate. There had been previous perceptions by Chinese leaders such as Zedong that the might of a country was measured by the size of the country’s population.

With respect to this opinion, Chinese people were encouraged to increase their birth rate with the aim of developing a stronger nation. The call for a larger population was seemingly received positively in the country since by the year 1953, the growth rate of the country’s population had sent alarming indicators and calls were made for population control (Boden, 2008, p. 104).

The impact of the population burst together with industrial revolution that was felt at the time then led for call to change Chinese population patterns. The government in its aim to provide quality services to its people also identified the management of the large population as a key to achieving development objectives of the then government (Greenhalgh, 2008, p. 45).

In the middle of the twentieth century, as china was undergoing economic recovery together with established peace and the then industrialization atmosphere, the high birth rates called for solutions as women were interested in working and supporting the industrial revolution yet they had the burden of carrying pregnancies and taking care of their young ones.

The then seemingly lack of knowledge among the Chinese women on how to control their child bearing led to their call for government assistance towards family planning. Further problems arose as a result of increased population as the government was being pressed with the responsibility of “employing, educating, feeding and housing” (Greenhalgh, 2008, p. 45) the large population.

The initial solution to the Chinese population problem was first thought to be a simultaneous “population growth, along with economic and social developments” (Greenhalgh, 2008, p. 45) which was proposed by people like Mao Zedong. The intensity of strain of the population on facilities however increased and opinions about family planning were considered.

The developments then led to the government taking the responsibility of directly controlling the country’s population. Research by the socialist government into the Chinese population structure then led to adoption of “state birth planning” in which the government had control of the number of children that were born (Greenhalgh, 2008, p. 47).

Attempts to control the Chinese growing population started in the 1960s with measures such as “production of contraceptives and massive media campaigns promoting late marriage, low birth rates and the use of intrauterine devices” (IML, 2007, p. 1) among other steps to control fertility and birth rates in the country (IML, 2007, p. 1). Further considerations by the government, after intensive research, led to the adoption of the one child policy in the people’s republic of china in the year 1979.

The policy which was aimed at helping the government to reduce the country’s capacity to a level that it could adequately support had three main agendas: “delayed marriage and delayed child bearing, fewer and healthier births and one child per couple” (Learner, n.d., p. 1). The policy was however applied selectively. Its application depended on whether a person was staying in an urban or rural area among other factors (University of Florida, 2009, p. 1)

Implementation of the one child policy in China

The implementation of the policy was not hard in urban areas as people were already under a lot of strain regarding social services. There was already shortage in accommodation facilities in china at the time and this made the child policy a welcomed idea because people saw it as a solution to the then housing crisis in Chinese urban centers. The Chinese government, which was the main employer in the urban centers, also ensured monitoring of its employees into the implementation of the policy.

The implementation of the policy was therefore considered to be smooth in urban areas. Challenges were however met in rural areas regarding the implementation of the one child policy. Poverty was one of the challenges that the policy faced in rural areas. Contrary to the opinion that poor families would opt for fewer children that they could afford to support, the Chinese peasants saw children as a future source of income that would support their parents in old age.

Children were also a source of labor to their parents in farms and limiting the number of children to one would deprive the parents of this labor force. Another challenge that faced the policy in rural areas was security that parents require during their old age in terms of material provisions and physical company.

The culture that children get married and women leave their parents to stay with their husbands led to a preference of boys by Chinese rural residents. A couple that was not yet blessed with a boy child would therefore not easily yield to a concept of family planning; leave alone a one child policy. Harsh conditions were however laid on citizens who failed to comply with the one child policy in terms of levies (IML, 2008, p. 1).

The implementation of the one child policy was also seen to be forceful as the government considered non compliance to be more of a constitutional offence. Couples who failed to honor the government’s initiative of having only one child were severely fined depending on where they lived. Fines that went as high as thousands of dollars were laid upon couples who conceived after their first child and cases of forced abortions were reported in the country as the government tried to enforce the policy.

Softer implementation measures such as granting “longer maternity leave and other benefits to couples that delayed childbearing” (Fitzpatrick, 2009, p. 1) as well as recognition of couples “who volunteered to have one child” (Fitzpatrick, 2009, p. 1) were also employed in the implementation of the policy (Fitzpatrick, 2009, p. 1).

Cartier (2001) indicated that the Chinese one child policy implementation was not uniform. The way in which the policy was implemented together with its “acceptance and results” varied from one geographical region to another (Cartier, 2001, p. 187). People in agriculturally dominated rural areas were, for example, “allowed to have two children” (Cartier, 2001, p. 187) per couple.

Further exemptions were made to the policy if a couple’s first child was a girl, giving couples another chance to search for a boy child. The implementation was with this respect gender biased as it showed regard to boy child and not to girl child. It represented the girl child as of lower value by giving preference to the boy child only (Cartier, 2001, p. 187).

Reactions of the Chinese people towards the one child policy

The issue of one child policy brought about a lot of reaction from the Chinese people. Some of the witnessed reactions were steps to avoid penalties that government agencies laid on people who violated the policy, or to try to suite the government’s policy while some were just intended to criticize the policy.

One of the reactions of the Chinese people towards the introduction and the implementation of the one child policy was the abandonment or killing of children that were born contrary to the policy, or that according to parents were not favorable to the policy. The cause of this reaction was based on the traditional preference of male children to female children and cases of accidental pregnancies.

Couples would, for example, have their first child but throw it away or kill for being a girl. The tradition in Chinese communities gave value to male children and parents for this reason felt obliged to comply with the one child policy while at the same time, they felt that they had to have a male child. The end result was killing or abandoning children if they were not boys. Unplanned pregnancies after a first child also resulted in abortions as couples tried to escape penalties of non compliance to the one child policy (Daniel, n.d., p. 1).

Impacts of the Chinese one child policy

The immediate impact of the one child policy was the reduced population growth rate in the country. The birth rate in china was significantly reduced from its rate in the year 1979 which was recorded at 2.9 to its 1.4 as recorded in the year 2004.

The reduction in population growth rate was a success to the government that introduced the one child policy with the aim o f controlling the Chinese population that was growing at an alarming rate.

Chinese census that was conducted in the year 2000 revealed that the policy had been successful in controlling hundreds of millions of child births. Critics have however pointed out that the reduced birth rates realized in china is not purely attributable to the one child policy of the year 1979.

There had been other measures in china that had been established to help the country control its population growth. Policies that advocated for “later child bearing, greater spacing between children and fewer children” (Hesketh, 2005, p. 1) had been effective in reducing the Chinese population growth rate prior to the introduction of the one child policy. Critics have argued that policies that preceded the one child policy were considerably more successful that the famous one child policy.

Before the introduction of the one child policy in the year 1979, the population growth rate had been successfully reduced from its rate of over six to about 5.9 in the 1970. The introduction of population control policies after the year 1970 further reduced the growth rate from 5.9 in the year 1970 down to about three in the year 1979 (Hesketh, 2005, p. 1).

The one child policy together with influence prior policies therefore contributed to the final reduction of the rate from its value in the year 1979 down to its current approximation of about 1.7. It can thus be argued that the reduction in population growth rate might have still been realized even in the absence of the one child policy.

This view would cast a negative image on the policy makers who introduced the policy and called for its enforcement owing to the fact that most citizens, especially in rural areas, had contrary opinions to the demand of the policy. The sufferings and humiliations such as fines and forced abortions together with child murders and abandonments, which were realized as a result of the policy, would therefore have not been necessary as the fall in growth rate would still be realized subject to the earlier policies (Hesketh, 2005, p. 1).

Another impact of the one child policy in the Chinese population system is the increased ratio disparity between males and females. Owing to the traditional believes and preference of male children among the people of china, the limitation on the number of children that a couple are allowed to have has led to keenness on the sex of a child born to any particular couple.

In urban areas where the number of children is restricted to one per couple for example, the desire and preference of male children as compared to female children and the availability of ultrasonography has allowed couples to screen and determine the sex of an expected child. The effect of knowing that the unborn baby is a girl often leads to abortion in order to retain the one chance of child bearing for a boy child.

The same case was evidenced in rural areas especially after first born of couples. Since couples in these areas are allowed to have a second child if the first one happens to be a girl, emphases are put to ensure that the second birth is a boy. Any contrary indication, which can be detected through screening, results in abortion. The policy has therefore fueled gender discrimination that has been against women as they were considered to be of less value as compared to men.

The direct expression of this view over women and girls could have been a discouragement to young women as they felt unappreciated in the society. The increased gender disparity in terms of numbers also pose a social threat to societies as men will grow to find a deficit of women with whom new families can be established. There is therefore a looming fear of unmarried men in china in future as the number of men is expected to be very high as compared to that of women (Hesketh, 2005, p. 1).

A secondary impact of the one child policy that reduced birth rate in China is the population ageing that has been noted in the country with more of it predicted to be witnessed in future. The effect of economic developments in china has led to vast improvements in social services that have led to improved living standards in the country.

Improved health services as provided by the government has also contributed to better health care leading to increased life expectancy in the country. The reduced birth rate that has been realized in china, coupled with increased life expectancy has resulted in a situation where the number of young people is gradually decreasing while the number of the old in the country is on the increase.

A normally stable population experiences a constant ratio of all demographic age groups since natural occurrences of death and birth rates cancel one another. A contrary observation is however made when both birth rate and death rate are on the decline subject to factors such as increased life expectancy. The effect of the reduced birth rate and death rate in the Chinese population for example has resulted in a majority of the population being composed of the elderly (Kaneda, 2011, p. 1).

The trend of the Chinese demographic pattern is expected to worsen with the percentage of the elderly projected to increase from less than ten percent in the year 2006 to about twenty four percent in the next four and a half decades. The population ageing, as a result of the reduced birth rate and coupled with increased life expectancy also has a variety of impacts that can be significantly attributed to the one child policy’s reduced birth rate.

One of the effects of the population ageing is the increased pressure on health services as required by the increasing number of the elderly. Health problems that are associated with old age are expected to be on the increase following increased number of the elderly. The resulting increased cost of taking care of these old people will be a strain to the government especially when the working force decrease due to population ageing causing a lapse in the country’ economy (Kaneda, 2011, p. 1).

Similarly, the change in Chinese demographic pattern leading to population aging has a direct effect on the country’s economic status. Couples being forced to have one child mean that in their old age, they will only have this one person to look up to for care and support. At the same time, the undersupplied economy in terms of labor force will also be depending on this same person to work in the economy. The end result is a shortage in labor force in the economy as well as strained facilities for taking care of the elderly.

The economy is going to be strained in the sense that in every place of two people who will be getting old and leaving the labor force, there will be a lesser corresponding fraction getting into the labor force due to reduced birth rate. Similarly, the elderly need for attention and someone to take care of them will also be faced with a challenge as their sole respective children will be involved in economic activities trying to obtain finances to support both themselves and their old parent.

The overall impact then lays on the government whose responsibility includes ensuring that the elderly are taken care of. The government will then be forced to offer services for the elderly as the young ones work in the economy. This will consequently strain the government due to increased expenditure on the economically inactive old people and reduced labor force due to the ageing population (Kaneda, 2011, p. 1).

Possible solutions to negative impacts of the one child policy

The one child policy has been associated with effects that are not favorable to the country’s economic and even social aspects. One of the steps that can be taken to counter these problems is “loosening fertility restrictions to allow more births” (Banister, 2009, p. 29). Reduced restriction would allow for more children who will in future fill the gaps left in labor force as well as participate in caring for the elderly.

Establishing funds to provide services to the elderly as well as enacting rules that put legal responsibility of daughters who are single children to take care of their parents in old age. This will shift the government’s expenditure from social services for the elderly to other national development programs (Banister, 2009, p. 29).


The establishment of the one child policy in china in the year 1979 seemed to have been a misinformed policy. This is because of a number of reasons that starts from the fact that the reduced birth rate in the country was more significant before the adoption of the policy as compared to after its adoption when birth rate stabilized.

The policy has therefore failed to achieve its objective that was to reduce population growth rate. On the other hand, the policy has brought a number of negative side effects like government’s oppression on couples who failed to comply with the policy, abortions, increased gender imbalance ratio as well as disregard to female children. This paper therefore holds the conclusion that the Chinese one child policy was not a good policy.


Banister, J. (2009) Coping with population aging in china. Web.

Boden, J. (2008) The Wall Behind China’s Open Door: Towards Efficient Intercultural Management in China. Brussels, Belgium: ASP/ Vubpress/ Upa.

Cartier, C. (2001). Globalizing south China. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Daniel, V. China’s one child policy. Web.

Fitzpatrick, L. (2009) China’s one-child policy. Web.

Greenhalgh, S. (2008) Just one child: science and policy in Deng’s China. Los Angeles, California: University of California Press.

Hesketh, T. (2005) . Web.

IML. (2007) China’s one child policy, history. Web.

Kaneda, T. (2011) China’s concern over population aging and health. Web.

Learner. Some facts: China’s “one child” policy. Web.

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