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Population Characteristics, The One-Child Policy

state supplies, Marxist ideology, fertility rate, child policy, child program

The decrease in fertility rate recorded from the 1950s to the 1990s resulted largely from government efforts. These efforts included promoting late marriages and, after 1979, inducing Chinese couples to have only one child. This one-child policy actually allows for two or more children under some circumstances. In addition to implementing the one-child policy, the state has expanded the number of public health facilities that provide birth-control information and contraceptive devices at little or no cost. Abortion is legal, and pregnant women who already have one or more children face social and administrative pressures to terminate their pregnancies. However, women who belong to one of China’s national minorities may not face the same level of pressure. In general, government policies allow non-Han peoples more cultural independence and permit them to have larger families. This is due to historical trends of high mortality among minorities, Marxist ideology, and the government’s political interest in appearing friendly and sensitive to the needs of China’s ethnic minority peoples.

A consequence of the one-child program has been a higher than normal ratio of males to females. Some families use new methods to identify the sex of unborn fetuses and abort female fetuses in order to ensure the birth of a male. In addition, reports of female infanticide in China have been numerous. The reasons for the preference for boys are complex but lie partly in established cultural traditions. Sons carry on the family name and are responsible for performing ritual obligations of ancestor worship. Perhaps more important, however, sons are expected to care for their parents in old age. Typically, daughters care for their husband’s parents rather than for their own. This care is of concern particularly in rural areas, where the majority of Chinese still live, because the state supplies few, if any, pension benefits in these areas. Consequently, parents who have only one child prefer to have a son to ensure a more comfortable retirement. While it is generally agreed that there are more males than females in China, the degree of the imbalance is hard to discern. The Chinese government, for example, records a 1997 ratio of about 104 males to every 100 females, while the United Nations records a 2002 ratio of 106 males to every 100 females (compared to 97 males to 100 females in Canada and 100 to 100 in Indonesia). These statistics also reflect other factors, such as lifespan differences between genders; therefore, a more revealing statistic is the ratio of males to females at birth. In China in 2002, the sex ratio was 1.09 males born for each female. By comparison, the rate in Canada was 1.05 males for each female.



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