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 13th (it will be out in January 2020), 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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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Gender Inequality at the Root of China's Persistent Low Birth Rate

Yesterday I talked about the very low birth rates in Japan and Italy, in particular, being a function of the old-fashioned gender inequality that exists at home and discourages women from combining a career and parenthood. I didn't mention China, but in my view the situation is essentially the same there. To be sure, the initial impetus for the drop in the birth rate in China was the horrific one-child policy that led to forced abortions and other forms of officially sanctioned harassment. But, other changes were also taking place in Chinese society that propelled women into education and the labor force, thereby reinforcing small family norms. Given the preference that a majority of couples in China seem to have for two-children, it seemed natural for the government to assume that when it lightened up a bit on the one-child policy, the birth rate would rise, although most demographers were not so sure, as I noted last year. And, to be sure, it has not risen.

I mention these thing in particular because today's NYTimes has a story about a Chinese academic (albeit living in the U.S.)--Dr. Fuxian Li--whose posts criticizing reproductive policies in China have been taken off the web by Chinese authorities. It is not clear what's going on, but it puts the one-child policy and China's low birth rate back in the spotlight.
Today, Dr. Yi, a father of three, believes that most Chinese agree with him that the state should get out of their bedrooms, and are increasingly willing to say so in public.
“Public opinion is firmly on the side of ending family planning policies,” Dr. Yi said, basing his conclusion on the tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of online comments that have now vanished, his public speaking in China, and reactions to the social and statistical research in his book “Big Country With an Empty Nest,” which was published in China in 2013.
There he wrote: “Family planning was born in haste, conducted with violence and will end in equivocation and cover-up.”
I agree with all of that, but the article leaves hanging the question of why the birth rate remains low in the face of the government's easing of the one-child policy. The answer, in my view, is that Chinese culture needs to change in the same way that other East Asian and Southern European nations have to change to recognize that a sharing of work at home and out of the home by both mothers and fathers is almost certainly required if the birth rate is to nudge back up closer to replacement level. Getting women out of the home brings down the birth rate to a sustainable level, but wanting them to stay at home once they have "escaped", is what brings it down to very low levels. 

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