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China’s Population Policy at the Crossroads: Social Impacts and Prospects

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Abstract China’s total fertility rate fell below replacement level in the 1990s. From the 1970s the fertility rate declined dramatically, mainly as a consequence of the national population policy whose aim has been to limit birth numbers, control population growth and boost economic growth. Having achieved such a low fertility rate, how will China’s population policy evolve in the future? This paper first reviews the history of China’s population policy since 1970 in three stages: 1970–1979; 1980–1999; and after 2000. We explore the impacts of China’s population policy, including relief of pressure on China’s environment and resources, fertility decline, the unexpectedly high male-biased sex ratio at birth (SRB), the coming shortage of labour force, and the rapid aging of the population, and extinction of racial and cultural diversity. We also investigate ethical issues raised by the implementation of the policy and its results. Finally we introduce the controversy over potential adjustment of the policy, acknowledging the problems faced by western countries with low fertility and the counter-measures they have taken. We offer some suggestions that might be appropriate in the Chinese context.

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