This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Demography Trumps Policy Once Again in China

I discuss in Chapter 6 the fact that fertility was already dropping quickly when China implemented its one-child policy and, given the rapid fertility decline among its East Asian neighbors, there is every reason to think that fertility would be at the same level today in China with or without that policy. Yet, the government has been very slow to scale the program back. This week's Economist provides another example (which I discuss in Chapter 9) of the how demography trumps government policy--this time in terms of urbanization. Everywhere in the world the percentage of the population living in cities is increasing and China is no exception, despite the fact that Mao wanted to keep people down on the farm and out of the potentially westernizing influences of cities. For that reason, back in the 1950s the government instituted the hukou system of household registration designed to keep you and your progeny where you were back then--rural people in the countryside and the then relatively small urban population in the cities. Over time, of course, job opportunities and wages have been higher in the cities than in the countryside, and so there has been a huge wave of "undocumented" migration to the cities.
Even migrants who have lived in cities for many years, or the urban-born children of such migrants, are given far less access to government-funded health care and education than other city dwellers. This is because their rural hukou is often impossible to change.
But last week the government quietly announced a gradual loosening of the rules:
By 2020, according to the plan, 100m migrants are to obtain urban hukou. This is a cautious target. The government admits it would still leave 200m people—by then roughly two-thirds of migrants—without city-resident status. Some state-run newspapers say it would mean, on average, that 17m migrants a year would get urban hukou. That would be a step up, but in recent years the numbers have already been rising fast, albeit from a low base. The government said last year that between 2010 and 2012 an average of 8.4m a year had been granted urban status.
Crucially, the plan does not suggest when the hukou system might be scrapped altogether. And it still allows bigger cities, which migrants prefer, to continue usinghukou barriers as a way of trying to limit population growth. In the 16 cities with more than 5m people, officials will be allowed to give hukou only to migrants who gain a certain number of points (in cities that have experimented with this, points are awarded on the basis of educational qualifications, property ownership and other factors that rule out most migrants). Even in the smallest cities only migrants with “legal and stable” work and accommodation—which many do not have—will be able to get urban hukou.
So, in effect, the policy leaves a lot of rural to urban migrants in the position of second-class citizens. This is similar to what happens to undocumented immigrants to most rich countries but the difference here is that these people are all Chinese citizens. They are in the country legally, but they are not supposed to be in cities. That tide is unlikely to be turned, and the Economist implies that the government really just doesn't want to have to pay for urban amenities for this large and growing population.

No comments:

Post a Comment