Daily Archives: December 30, 2010

2.7 heads are better than 1.5

Written by Paul Adkins

AFP has published a story quoting the US Census Bureau, who predicted that India’s population will overtake China by 2025.

According to the Census Bureau, Indian women are producing 2.7 children on average, while China’s females are well behind, with only 1.5 children per woman.

China of course has its One Child Policy, which has been in place almost 30 years, and is now entering its second generation.    Although it has been tweaked from time to time, the policy is still largely the same as it has been since the 1980’s.   But it must surely come to an end soon.

This is because there will come a time when it will start delivering seriously negative outcomes.   Simple mathematics and a knowledge of how Chinese culture works, will explain.

China is a society in which family hierarchy is very important.   Unlike in the West, where we tend to put our unwanted forebears into old-age homes, Chinese families are expected to care for parents and grandparents.   The task often falls on the oldest son.

But if the oldest is also your only child, then it is up to him/her to take care of both parents.   When that child marries (another single child), then those two have up to 4 parents to look after.   As the quality of life improves, as well as the quality of health services, those elderly folk will be living with their children for many more years than for previous generations.

The problem multiplies if it extends to the next generation.   The two people who have been caring for four parents, can have only one child.   Once that child marries, and his/her parents retire, then there could be as many as 12 parents and grandparents all looking for support from the next generation.

It’s actually less of a problem just now, since many of today’s retirees aren’t alive, thanks to the millions of people who died in the great famine and the cultural revolution a couple of generations ago.   But it is a problem that is due to arrive as the policy remains in place.

Meantime, the proportion of active workers compared to retired workers starts shifting in the wrong direction.   Less people entering the work force, despite a growing economy, will cause wages to rise, and could cause economic growth to falter.

The problem for the government, or more precisely the planners and strategists inside the Communist Party, is how to ease the policy in meaningful ways, without removing it entirely.   A complete dissolution of the policy could lead to a relatively quick increase in demand for food and water, and then for schools, hospitals, and finally for jobs.    While the majority of Chinese still live in rural rather than urban environments, the ability for the government to deliver social infrastructure is restricted, and jobs are already scarce in those areas.

Trouble is, a part easing is probably no easing at all, since it is hard to see how to only partially lift it.   A two-child policy perhaps?

And even if the authorities were to lift the ban on extra kids today, India is still likely to eventually overtake China as the world’s most populous nation.