After the 'One Child Policy'? Fertility intentions and ideals in China

Stuart A. Basten, University of Oxford
Hou Jiawei, Renmin University of China
Baochang Gu, Renmin University of China

In recent years, scholars have increasingly called into question the claim that the fall to low fertility in China was primarily driven by family planning restrictions; instead that economic development, urbanisation, and the development of improved educational and employment opportunities. In this view, China – and urban areas in particular – share more in common with other low fertility settings in Pacific Asia than perhaps previously recognised. Fertility preferences, as measured through ideal or intended number of children have been employed by demographers in a variety of ways. In Europe, fertility preferences have invariably been higher than actual fertility, suggesting that under certain policy/economic conditions birth rates could be raised. Such preferences also give a broad impression of general attitudes towards family sizes and help to test whether there are particular societal ‘norms’ (such as a ‘two-child norm’). In this paper, we present the results of a meta-analysis of fertility preferences in urban and rural China covering the period from the implementation of the one-child policy in 1980 through to 2009. While there are a number of clear limitations to both the review and the constituent surveys, we find indicative evidence of widespread below-replacement level fertility preferences. These concur with other national level surveys. Finally, we consider the extent to which we can ‘trust’ the responses given in surveys. We conclude that if China were to relax its’ ‘One Child Policy’, it is likely that only a relatively small number of people would take advantage of the change and have a second child. For those that do, there appears to be a strong bias towards having one boy and one girl.

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Presented in Session 86: Family policy and fertility