Chinese family of the typical 3 member structure.

What was China’s One Child Policy?

The One Child Policy in China was a controversial population control measure that was in place from 1979 to 2015. The policy was introduced to slow population growth in the country, which was seen as a threat to the country’s economic growth. It placed a limit of one child per family and was strictly enforced through fines, the denial of social benefits, and even forced abortions.

Aims of the One Child Policy

1. Achieve a balance between resources and population

During the 1950s, China employed a pro-natalist (pro-baby) policy. Following the Great Chinese Famine, the government promoted growth in the population as starvation killed 90 million people. Total Fertility rose significantly and meant that women had 6 children on average. The huge rise in the population of over 400 million people between 1949 and 1976 meant that the people began to struggle in a battle against resources. The One Child Policy aimed to limit the lack of resources and avoid loss of life through hunger.

2. Improve the standard of living and quality of life

China’s government was set on becoming a major economic power. The One Child Policy was a part of this plan, bringing major economic improvement through a reduction in people, making a lower demand for resources and a higher standard of living. This economic change would then stimulate social development. The policy ensured that nutrition, education and life expectancies all improved. Those that broke the rules of the policy and had more children were viewed as damaging to society. They were required to pay social compensation fees.

Impacts of the One Child Policy

Positive impacts of the One Child Policy

The policy had some success in reducing the country’s population growth rate, with an estimated 400 million births prevented over the course of its enforcement. This was accompanied by an impressive economic transformation, with China’s GDP rising from $92 in 1960 to $13,400 in 2015. This growth was largely driven by the One Child Policy, as the country’s economy grew at an average rate of 9.2% per year over this period.

The economic success of the One Child Policy was accompanied by some impressive social gains. All of the Millennium Development Goals were reached by 2015, with 800 million people being lifted out of poverty. The policy also led to a significant increase in the country’s gender ratio, with women making up 48% of the population in 2015, compared to just 41% in 1980.

Negative impacts of the One Child Policy

Despite these successes, the policy had serious consequences for both individuals and society as a whole. The policy led to an increase in the number of abandoned children, as families chose to have boys instead of girls in order to comply with the policy. Boys were more important for two reasons, 1. the family name could be passed on and 2. had higher earnings which could be used to look after their parents in old age.

It also caused a rise in the number of infanticide cases, with many families resorting to killing their newborn babies in order to avoid punishment. Female infanticide in particular was a huge problem. The mortality rate in the 1990s for boys stood at 26 per 1000 but for girls, the figure was 33 per 1000. The policy also had economic consequences, as the country faced a looming labour shortage due to the lack of young people entering the workforce. The ageing population continued to grow substantially without replacement in employment leading to economic downfall. By 2050, 27% of the population will be aged over 65.

The policy has perhaps worked too well as many Chinese couples now only opt for one child as they have come from this lifestyle. They feel content with one child and so population growth is now rising as expected. A child could be left with the responsibility of six elderly relatives to care for placing a great economic burden on them.


Overall, the One Child Policy in China had serious consequences for individuals and society, even as it led to impressive economic growth and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. While the policy may have had some benefits, the costs associated with it cannot be ignored.