Monday, June 11, 2007

Two Papers on Chinese Fertility

Not too long ago we had a discussion on Chinese fertility and as often before the discussion converged on just what theTFR level is in China as well as the effects of the one child policy. This entry fields two papers which might serve to illuminate these issues. Both papers are from recent issues of Population and Development Review.

The first paper examines the very important point of heterogenity across China in terms of application and effect of the one child policy.

In this article we survey variations in China’s fertility policy as of the late 1990s, in an attempt to describe local policy and the implications of the aggregation of local policies for national policy. Following a brief discussion of the politics of population policymaking in contemporary China, we summarize fertility policy regulations within China’s provinces.1 Our survey illustrates the intricacies and complexities of the population control process in China and serves as a background for our detailed analysis of the policy-stipulated fertility level in China based on local fertility policies. Using data collected on fertility policy for 420 prefecture-level units in China, the administrative level below the province, we estimate fertility levels that would obtain locally if all married couples had births at the levels permitted by local policy. Chinese birth control officials term this fertility level as “policy fertility” (zhengce shengyulu). We compute the average provincial and national policy fertility levels implied by policy fertility at the prefecture level and map the geographic and demographic distributions of policy fertility in China. This policy fertility level is a quantitative summary of China’s current fertility policy, informing what is pursued in terms of population control nationally, on the basis of diverse local policies. Policy fertility serves as a reference for evaluating China’s fertility policy implementation, and as a starting point in evaluating the necessity and feasibility of continuing China’s current fertility policy. (...) Two main conclusions can be drawn from the results of this study, and they seem to provide a glimpse of China’s fertility policy from opposite viewpoints. First, China’s fertility policy encompasses much variation, both geographically and demographically. At both the prefecture and province levels, policy fertility ranges from the one-child rule to a policy that allows two children and more. At the same time, birth control regulations drafted and implemented by China’s provinces allow numerous kinds of exemptions to the one-child rule, based on considerations ranging from the demographic to the political. These results highlight the complex nature of Chinese birth control policymaking and implementation. Both regional and demographic distributions of policy fertility show that the mode of the policy falls into the category of 1.3 to 1.5 children per couple (38 percent of the prefectures and 53 percent of the population, respectively). The majority of the Chinese population (more than 70 percent) live in areas with a policy fertility level at 1.3 to 2.0 children per couple. Second, despite local variations and exemptions to the one-child rule, the one-child policy remains a core element of China’s fertility policy and continues to have an impact on China’s demographic processes. The one-child rule applies to nearly 30 percent of China’s prefecture-level administrative units and to over a third of China’s national population. Moreover, in locales that allow couples with a first-born daughter to have a second child, which contain over half of China’s population, about half of all couples are also effectively under the one-child rule. Should all couples under various policy regimes follow the current fertility policies fully, more than 60 percent of all Chinese couples would end up with only one child. Based on local fertility policies and corresponding population distributions, we estimate that the overall average fertility targeted by the fertility policies for China as a whole is 1.47 at the end of the 1990s. This level is far below replacement.

The second paper examines the options and time scale of a potential fertility transition policy in China and above all notes that abandoning the one child policy is urgent.

This article compares five currently debated scenarios for fertility policy transition in China, in terms of their implications for future population growth and population aging, the proportions of elderly living alone, labor force trends, pension deficits, economic costs, the marriage squeeze, and other socioeconomic outcomes. Based on these comparative analyses, the author concludes that China needs to begin a gradual modification of its fertility policy as soon as possible. He proposes a three-stage "soft-landing" strategy for fertility policy transition: (1) a 7-year initial smooth transition period; (2) from approximately 2014-15 to 2032-35 a universal two-child policy combined with late childbearing in both rural and urban areas; (3) after 2032-35 all Chinese citizens would be free to choose family size and fertility timing. This strategy will enable China to have much more favorable demographic conditions and socioeconomic outcomes, as compared to keeping the current policy unchanged.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would argue that China should have abandoned its one child policy yesterday. If for no other reason then it is one of the most fundamental violations of human rights currently inflected on the Chinese people.

But I have to wonder if it would make any difference in their demographics even if they did that. Certainly Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan have similar replacement levels to China even without a one child policy.