Demography

, Volume 54, Issue 4, pp 1375–1400

The Astonishing Population Averted by China’s Birth Restrictions: Estimates, Nightmares, and Reprogrammed Ambitions

Article

Abstract

China launched an unprecedented program to control its population in 1971. Experts have dismissed the official estimate of 400 million births averted by this program as greatly exaggerated yet neglect to provide their own estimates. Counterfactual projections based on fertility declines in other countries suggest that China’s program-averted population numbered 360–520 million as of 2015. The low end of this range is based on Vietnam—China’s best national comparator, with a two-child program of its own—and the high end is based on a 16-country comparator selected, ironically, by critics of the official estimate. The latter comparator further implies that China’s one-child program itself averted a population of 400 million by 2015, three-quarters of the total averted population. All such estimates are projected to double by 2060, due mostly to counterfactual population momentum. These and other findings presented herein affirm the astonishing impact of China’s draconian policy choices and challenge the current consensus that rapid socioeconomic progress drove China’s fertility well below two children per family. International comparisons of fertility and income suggest instead that China’s very low fertility arrived two or three decades too soon. If China had not harshly enforced a norm of 1.5-children during the last quarter century, most mothers would have had two children, one-half birth higher than observed.

Keywords

China Birth planning Fertility transition One-child policy Coercion 

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© Population Association of America 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ArlingtonUSA

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