China’s family planning policies are one set of the most fundamental social policies in China and are more complex than the simplified notion of a one-child policy. The Chinese government initiated the family planning policies in 1962; the well-known one-child policy had only been implemented since 1980. Even after 1980, there were considerable regional and ethnic variations as well as many changes, notably, the exemption of the ethnic minorities and relaxation of the strict one-child policy in rural China in the mid-1980s. Since 1st January, 2016, China formally changed its one-child policy to a two-child policy, i.e., all couples are allowed to have two children.
The more than 50-year-old family planning policies inevitably have affected many aspects of Chinese society. The policies have a far-reaching impact on population size, fertility rate, sex ratio, age structure, family size, and so on. In this paper, we systematically examine the labor market consequences of the China’s family planning policies.
The Sex-ratio Effects of Family Planning Policies
The sex ratio at birth has dramatically increased from 108.5 in 1982 to 117.96 in 2010, deviating far from the biologically stable range from 103 to 107. The high sex ratios in China have concerned researchers, and the cause for the increase in sex ratios has been in debate. A number of economists and demographers argue that the one-child policy is responsible for the increase in sex ratios in China. Figure 3 depicts the time series of sex ratios by birth cohort from 1965 to 2000 projected by the Chinese population census in 1982, 1990 and 2000. The sex ratio in the pre-policy change period, i.e., before 1979 (approximately 106), is significantly lower than that in the post-policy change period. The one-child policy increased the sex ratio by approximately 7.0 for the birth cohort of 1991-2005, which accounts for about 55% of the total increase in the sex ratio.
The increase in the sex ratio in China is the result of a combination of son preference, the progress of gender-selection technology and a decrease in fertility induced by the one-child policy. As a patrilineal society, son preference is deeply rooted in traditional Chinese culture. Most parents have a very strong desire to have at least one son. With the facilitation of modern gender-selection technologies, such as ultrasound B machines, parents may engage in sex selection in the face of fertility restrictions induced by the one-child policy. Particularly, Ebenstein shows that the overall increase in the sex ratio is driven by an increase in the prevalence of sex selection among the first and second births.