Why China Is Ending Its One-Child Policy

The Communist Party faces an aging population and gender imbalance.

ByABC News
October 29, 2015, 12:43 PM
A woman plays with her grandchild at the Ritan Park in Beijing.
A woman plays with her grandchild at the Ritan Park in Beijing.
Andy Wong/AP Photo

— -- China announced it was ending its one-child only policy at a Communist Party leadership meeting on Thursday, according to state news agency Xinhua. The end of the controversial policy, which has been in place for 36 years, came as leaders finished a four day meeting where they discussed China’s social and economic development for the next five years.

Chinese couples now have the freedom to have two children.

When Did China Start Its Family-Planning Policy?

China started its one-child rule in 1979 because of fears that an exploding population would slow economic growth. While the policy did temper a meteoric rise in population in the world’s most populated country, China became known for pressuring women to have abortions and imposing huge penalties on couples for having a second child.

Some families chose to send their second child to relatives in rural areas, where families are not penalized for having up to two children. In recent years, China has relaxed its policies. Starting in 2013, couples in which only one was a parent were allowed to have a child together.

What Was The Impact Of The Policy?

China’s slowing population growth has come at a cost. Because many Chinese parents prefer to have a son (baby girls are either abandoned or aborted), a deep gender imbalance has been created among the younger generations. In China, about 118 boys are born for every 100 girls compared to a global average of 103 to 107. The consequences are two-fold: men have a harder time marrying because of the increased competition and the gender imbalance has led to social instability.

The policy has also meant the aging of the China. For the last three years its working age population has fallen.

Why Is The Communist Party Ending The Policy Now?

London School of Economics Professor Hyun Bang Shin said the end of the policy was inevitable and is "simply an endorsement of many changes and relaxation of policies in recent years." With more and more people expected to move into China’s cities, where the one child policy has been strictly enforced, the burden to provide welfare and public resources by the government increases.

"China is an aging country with the a long life expectancy. It is quite clear the younger generation will bear a greater burden in the coming years," Shin said.

China also aims to have 60 percent of its population living in urban centers. This would mean that 200 million migrant workers would move to urban cities.

Does This Mean that Chinese Couples Will Have More Kids?

The impact remains to be seen. "I don’t think a lot of parents would act on it because the economic pressure of raising children is very high in China," Mu Guangzong, a professor of demography at Peking University told The New York Times.

According to Chinese state media reports in January, just 30,000 families in Beijing registered to have a second child. "Families, even if they want another child, have to think whether they will be able to sustain life of a second child," said Shin.