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.

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Has the End of the One Child Policy in China Raised the Birth Rate?

In late 2015 the Chinese government officially ended the one-child policy, as I noted at the time. Few demographers expected this to have much of an influence on the birth rate, since there are still a lot of economic incentives in China to keep families small. However, this week The Economist reports that there was a spike in the number of births in 2016. Is this the start of a trend?
On January 22nd the National Health and Family Planning Commission revealed data that seemed to justify optimism: it said 18.5m babies had been born in Chinese hospitals in 2016. This was the highest number since 2000—an 11.5% increase over 2015. Of the new babies, 45% were second children, up from around 30% before 2013, suggesting the policy change had made a difference.
The graph below shows the trend over time:

 However, The Economist points out that this could just be a spike, and not a trend.
It always seemed likely that the one-child policy was a little like a dam, with couples wanting a second child banked up behind it. As soon as the flow of the dam was changed, they would have their desired babies quickly. That seems to have happened. It might also have made a difference that 2016 was the year of the monkey in the Chinese zodiacal calendar. This is considered a propitious year. Chinese couples have sometimes chosen to have a child under such a sign, rather than (say) in the less lucky year of the chicken, which begins on January 28th. So there were one-off reasons for the number of births to rise.
We have seen the influence of superstition before in the annual pattern of births in Japan, so there's no reason to think it couldn't have the same influence in China. This is one of those cases where we will just have to wait a year and see what the data tell us. 

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