Population Control and Consequences in China


  1. Problems associated with overpopulation
  2. Population policy
  3. Problems associated with population policies
  4. Social and political consequences
  5. Social and economic benefits
  6. Future outcomes

Problems associated with overpopulation. China has the highest population in the world, encompassing 1.2 billion or twenty one percent of the world's population (P.R.B. 7). China faces serious social and economic problems associated with overpopulation in the years to come. Overly populated regions lead to degradation of land and resources, pollution, and detrimental living conditions. The Chinese government has tried to find a solution to the problem of increasing population with moderate success.

China's population control policy. The Chinese government has used several methods to control population growth. In 1979, China started the "one child per family policy" (Juali Li 563). This policy stated that citizens must obtain a birth certificate before the birth of their children. The citizens would be offered special benefits if they agreed to have only one child. Citizens who did have more than one child would either be taxed an amount up to fifty percent of their income, or punished by loss of employment or other benefits (Hilali 10). Furthermore, unplanned pregnancies or pregnancies without the proper authorization would need to be terminated (Hilali 9). In 1980, the birth-quota system was established to monitor population growth(Jiali Li 563). Under this system, the government set target goals for each region. Local officials were mainly held responsible for making sure that population growth totals did not exceed target goals. If target goals were not met, the local officials were punished by law or by loss of privileges.

Other population control methods. Other methods that have been used by the Chinese government to restrict rising population totals include birth control programs and economic changes. In the early '80's, sterilization target goals were set and made mandatory for people who had two children (Hilali 19). At its peak in 1983, tubal ligations, vasectomies, and abortions amounted to thirty-five percent of the total birth control methods (Hilali 20). In addition, the economy changed from primarily one of agriculture to industry (Hilali 22). The government used this to its advantage; spreading the view that economic growth would hinder population growth (Hilali 22).

Problems associated with population policies. There have been many problems associated with the policies and programs established by Chinese officials. First of all, these programs have been difficult to implement and have had little success. Local officials in charge of growth totals, have falsified reports in order to avoid punishment (Zeng Yi 29). Consequently, this has led to underreporting of the number of births by as much as twenty-seven percent in 1992 (Zeng Yi 32). Moreover, compliance with the birth-quota system has been low. Of the 14,808 infants born between 1980-1988, only about half have been with a legal birth permit(Jiali Li 567). Of those born with a permit, eighty-eight percent were first children born into families (Jiali Li 567). Furthermore, out of the second children born, only eleven percent were authorized (Jiali Li 568). Lastly, people of rural communities, who depend on having larger families to help with the farms, have succeeded in finding ways around the birth-quota system (Hilali 13).

Social and political consequences. The Chinese government has also had to deal with political and social upheaval as a result of its strict policies. The United States, as well as many other countries, have publicly expressed their disapproval with Chinese leaders for their sterilization policies (Hilali 20). In addition, the Chinese citizens have retaliated with acts of violence related to the one child policy (Hilali 25). Finally, the cultural preference for sons has led to a large number of incidences of female infanticide (Hilali 21). As a result, the Chinese government has had to relax policies to include the "daughter-only-household" policy, which allows rural couples having a daughter first to be allowed to have a second child (Jiali Li 569).

Social and economic benefits. Over the last fifty years, China has raised the standards of living by keeping growth rates down. Access to natural resources have increased dramatically since 1980. According to the State Family Planning Commission, coverage in tap water has increased from eighty-four percent to ninety-four percent in the last fifteen years. Furthermore, coverage of natural gas has risen from sixteen percent to seventy-three percent. In addition, medical coverage has been extended to include birth insurance and workers compensation for mothers who follow China's birth policies (SFPC). In 1998, nineteen percent of China's population used this policy. Other benefits include increases in average life expectancy from thirty five years in 1949 to seventy years in 1996, and decreases in infant mortality rates from two hundred per one thousand to thirty three per one thousand (SFPC).

Future outcomes. Serious reforms are needed to ensure that China's population will not continue to grow. Better policies, more education, and urbanization could help China to reach population target goals. Since 1980, China has realized the importance of collaboration among agencies, and it has established the Population and Information Research Center (SFPC). This agency, along with others, is in charge of gathering information about population totals and helping the government to implement policies (SFPC). Projected growth of China's population is estimated to be around 1.5 billion by the year 2025 (P.R.B. 7). These figures will continue to rise, and the social and economic burdens will continue to plague everyone living in China.

Questions for debate: How does the theory of logistic population apply to overly populated regions? Explain the political implications associated with overpopulation. Differentiate the pros and cons of mandatory birth control and sterilization tactics.


Hilali, A.Z. "Chinaís Population Growth: Policy and Prospects." China Report 33.1 (1997): 1-34.

Jiali Li. "Chinaís One-Child Policy: How and How Well Has It Worked?" Population and Development Review 21.3 (1995): 563-585.

Population Reference Bureau. World Population Data Sheet. Washington D.C.: Population Reference Bureau, 1999.

State Family Planning Commission of China. www.sfpc.gov.cn.

Zeng Yi. "Is Fertility in China in 1991-92 Far Below Replacement Level?" Population Studies 50.1 (1996): 27-34.

Jamie Cook, December 5, 1999