Deng Xiaoping was the Communist Leader who led China from the late 1970s until his death in 1997. During that time, he introduced elements of a market-based economy, as well as various social reforms. One of the best-known reform is the One-Child Policy, whereby couples may only have one child. Over time, some 22 exceptions had been permitted; however, they were not widely-known until several years ago.
In 1980, when One-Child was established, China could not produce sufficient food to feed it’s growing population. That family planning, which was introduced under Chairman Deng, may have been necessary at the time; however, it has become a serious detriment to economic and social growth over the years since. Currently, China has an aging work force because women have been unable to have the 2.1 children, on average, needed just to replenish the current population and, thus, the labor supply.
Over the 35 years since One-Child was instituted: women have been attending college and joining the work force; the shortage of millions of women of marriage age further compounds the shortage of young children; most of the better-paying jobs are in the big cities, away from the traditional family caretakers; and the cost of living is increasing by Chinese standards.
The government has announced that, starting next year, couples will be allowed to have two children; but, they must be spaced apart. That may sound like a solution has finally been devised; however, the labor shortfall is not something that will disappear in 20 years, when children born today begin to join the work force of tomorrow.
In regions where women could have applied for permission to have a second child, and knew it, only about 12% have actually done so. The shortage of women, due to female fetuses being aborted, in favor of males, and the expense of rearing a second child, have further compounded the problem. Also, if every young woman desired to have a second child, what about the expected shortage of: midwives; daycare centers; schools; etc?
Let me back up for a moment. China does not have a social safety net, per se. As a result, children are expected to take care of the older generation. And, in many developing countries, it is still preferable to have male children support you, especially in China where you could only have one child. Thus, there are some 60 million more young men than women. The abortion of some female fetuses is responsible for that shortfall.
The development of the Chinese economy and the One-Child policy are both responsible for this problem. Young people have migrated to the major cities in search of jobs. They appear to like the much busier lifestyle; but, the cost of living is higher. Also, according to current policy, their children would have to return to their home regions for high school and college, even though the better schools are in the big cities.
So several things would have to change in order to begin lowering the age of the work force. China needs to tear-down some of these barriers and update various services to accommodate a large increase in working mothers with children. Perhaps the state can provide some financial incentives for couples to have a second child, and eliminate any restrictions whatsoever. Lastly, let nature free, and allow the young couples to decide for themselves.
Remember, this is China. Can it happen? Will it happen?