Great leap forward: China loosens notorious one-child policy which prevented up to 400m births to bankroll ageing population

Communist Party responds to fears of demographic timebomb

Economics Editor

One of the totemic policies of China’s Communist Party, the ban on families having more than a single child, has been relaxed in a historic shift by Beijing’s new ruling regime.

The decision to water down the one-child policy was taken at a summit of the Party’s elite leadership in the Chinese capital earlier this week. From now on Chinese couples in which one of the parents is an only child will be permitted to have a second baby, according to documents released by the regime yesterday. The relaxation of the restriction could give an estimated 10 million Chinese women the opportunity to have a second child should they wish.

The decision follows a previous relaxation of the rules, whereby families in which both the mother and the father are only children are allowed to have an extra child. But the timing of this decision, emerging from the first major policy meeting of the new administration of President Xi Jinping, imbues it with a special significance and signals a new era for China’s approach to its population.

The one-child policy was introduced in 1979 at the same time as the former leader Deng Xiaoping was throwing open the doors of the country to foreign investment and dismantling Chairman Mao’s command economy.

The policy was presented as a measure necessary to allow the Chinese economy to grow sustainably and to avoid the kind of social chaos the country had regularly experienced over the previous century.

Chinese officials present the policy as a success, claiming it has reduced the Chinese population today – relative to where it otherwise would have been – by some 400 million.

They say this helped China achieve its stunning 10 per cent average growth rate over the past three decades, as well as easing the pressure on the country’s highly polluted  environment.

However, independent demographers question that 400 million population reduction claim, pointing out that the Chinese birth rate was already falling in the late 1970s before the one-child restriction came into force.

They also argue that the Chinese, in line with trends seen in other fast-developing countries, would have opted to have smaller families anyway as their incomes rose.

Nevertheless, the consensus is that the policy probably reduced the Chinese population by at least 100 million.

Human rights groups say the policy has led to brutal forced abortions and sterilisations, particularly in rural China.

It is also suspected of driving the growing gender imbalance in China, whereby there are six baby boys born for every baby girl today. A traditional preference for sons and the development of ultrasound scanning technology is thought to have interacted with the one-child policy to create an epidemic of selective abortions.

Thousands of Chinese students holding Communist flags gather to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of China's Communist Party Thousands of Chinese students holding Communist flags gather to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of China's Communist Party, Getty

There are projected to be some 30 million young men in China by the end of the decade who will have no realistic hope of finding a Chinese spouse.

But what has prompted  the shift from the government is not such concerns, but  the realisation that the one-child policy has exacerbated the economic and fiscal  problem of China’s rapidly ageing society.

At the moment around 10 per cent of the population is over 65. By the middle of the century that proportion could reach 25 per cent based on  current trends.

Paying for the care of that expanding cohort of elderly people will pose an increasing burden on China’s working-age population.

But thanks to the low birth rate the working-age population is already contracting.  Today there are five taxpayers to every pensioner  but by the end of the next  decade the ratio could be just two to one.

Those are the projections that lie behind the prevalent fear in Chinese government circles that the country could “grow old before it grows rich” and the desire to take  corrective action.

China now has the world’s second-largest economy, but its per capita GDP is still only a fifth of the level of the United States and a quarter of that  of the UK.

The fear is that without an increase in the birth rate the country’s economic catch-up with the developed world could stall.

Despite the one-child policy, China today is the most populous country in the world, with an estimated 1.35 billion people, up from 984 million in 1979. However, partly as a result of the restrictions, the number of children born to each woman is estimated to have fallen to 1.5 today, down from 2.3 30 years ago.

Demographers estimate that the birth rate necessary to keep a population stable is 2.1 children per woman. This drop means the Chinese population is projected to peak in 2017 and to decline thereafter.

The one-child policy was never comprehensive, even in the earliest years. It did  not cover China’s 56 ethnic minority groups and families in the countryside were allowed to have an extra child if their first-born was a girl.

More recently, a growing number of wealthy families have opted to defy the two-child ban and to pay the  heavy fines imposed. This is reported to have raised around $2.7bn for the state coffers  in 2012 alone.

The Communist Party also revealed yesterday that it intends to abolish its network of “re-education through labour” camps and increase the role of the free market in allocating resources in  the economy as part of Xi  Jinping’s efforts to lay the basis for China’s prosperity over the next decade.

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
News
people
News
i100
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene
tv
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data/ MI Analyst

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

Project Manager with some Agile experience

£45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsf...

Biology Teacher

£100 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Urgently required teacher of Bi...

PPA Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments