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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Friday, October 20, 2017

How Many Births Were Averted in China by the One-Child Policy?

My thanks to Stuart Gietel-Basten for pointing to a story in Science magazine by Mara Hvistendahl about a controversy brewing over how many births were averted in China by their one-child policy.
A new study of China’s one-child policy is roiling demography, sparking calls for the field’s leading journal to withdraw the paper. The controversy has ignited a debate over scholarly values in a discipline that some say often prioritizes reducing population growth above all else.
Chinese officials have long claimed that the one-child policy—in place from 1980 to 2016—averted some 400 million births, which they say aided global environmental efforts. Scholars, in turn, have contested that number as flawed. But in a paper published in the journal Demography in August, Daniel Goodkind—an analyst at the U.S. Census Bureau in Suitland, Maryland, who published as an independent researcher—argues that the figure may, in fact, have merit.
Now, to be honest, I'm not sure that Goodkind's study is "roiling demography," but the paper is, in fact, written in a somewhat contentious style because it is obvious that Goodkind knows that his analysis will likely be unpopular. To be sure, he notes explicitly that his conclusions are different from those of a lot of people, including Stuart Gietel-Basten, and Mara Hvistendahl who wrote this story for Science. 

If you have read Chapter 6 of my book, you will know from Figure 6.9 (see below) that the drop in fertility was very similar in China (where the one-child policy was implemented in 1979) to that in Taiwan, where there was no such policy. 

The Taiwanese are culturally very similar to those in mainland China and, despite the fact that economic development may have taken off a bit earlier in Taiwan than on the mainland, the two countries were already on the same downward fertility path before China implemented its one-child policy. Goodkind tends to dismiss that argument in his paper, preferring to believe that the differences in economic development were more important than the data seem to suggest. 

My reading of Goodkind's paper is that it is much ado about nothing. While one may question the editors of Demography as to whether it should have been accepted for publication, it at least reminded us that there's nothing to see here folks. The one-child policy was a human rights disaster and, in my view, was not necessary to the drop in fertility in China. The Chinese were going to avert those births with or without that policy.

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