It has been suggested that the world population could increase to over 9 billion by 2050. This overpopulation will require a doubling of global food production and lead to many other problems besides. But what is the alternative?
Four decades ago the impending problem of population growth was picked up in China where the government made a drastic decision. They would halt their country’s population growth by drastically restricting births. This began in the 1970s with a ‘later, longer, fewer’ method encouraging couples to marry later, wait longer between children and ultimately have fewer children. The method was a success reducing the fertility rate of the country from 5.5 in 1970 to 2.7 in 1979. But for the Chinese government at the time this was not enough. 30 years ago this week the controversial one-child policy was introduced.
The one-child policy has done what it set out to do – reduced population growth. Unfortunately it has also left China with an aging population and shrinking labour force not to mention a skewed sex ratio as male children are kept preferentially over females. For decades experts and welfare groups have argued against the policy which led millions of children to be aborted, sometimes without the parents’ consent.
A group of demographers and sociologists have spent the past decade collecting data and forming arguments against the policy. This anti-one-child advocacy group point out that other countries have managed to decrease fertility rates without resorting to such drastic measures. But so far their arguments haven’t been met favourably by the government who fear that scaling back the policy will lead to a baby boom.
Now, in some areas, children of the one-child policy are allowed to have two children, if they wish, but a stunning survey of almost 20 000 women given this choice shows a large proportion of women happy to stick at one. In fact the average ideal found in this survey was for families to have 1.46 children. This suggests that were the policy to be lifted, or at least scaled back, there would not necessarily be a dramatic boom in births.
The advocacy group will continue to fight against the policy but know that it won’t be easy. “They are discussing relaxing the policy,” Says Wang Feng, a demographer at the University of California (UC), Irvine. “The process is just very slow. For now.”