Abortion: The non-China debate

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On this, the 35th anniversary of the historic Roe vs. Wade abortion decision in the United States, I thought I'd wade into the Chinese family planning scenario, and what is increasingly becoming a significant concern among demographers and social scientists here in this country.

Of course, we all know that China has the largest population in the world, standing currently at just over 1.3 billion people. And while the population figures are increasing, the effects of the one-child policy are beginning to produce a number of troubling side effects for the central government.

The first, and some would argue, most obvious problem created by the one-child policy is the development of a society of 'little emperors.' Because most urban families are only allowed one child, (the rules now allow for two if the parents themselves are the product of the one-child policy) parents and grandparents have increasingly become expected and accustomed to lavishing the younger generation, and exempting them from any of the chores and duties that their generation would have been expected to perform. I've come to know many young women in their mid-20's who have never learned to cook or clean properly. (I could say that of the mid-20's Chinese men too, but I don't spend a lot of time with them in socially domestic situations, if you get my drift!) As a result, the social fabric upon which this country has existed for hundreds of years, children taking care of their elderly parents, is starting to unravel, because today's younger generation is unwilling and, more often than not, unable to care for them given their domestic shortcomings.

An aging population is also becoming a significant concern. Chinese people are living much, much longer than they were when the PRC was formed. Back in 1949, the average life expectancy in this country was 32 years. Today, for men it's nearly 71 years old, and 74.5 for women. As such, with less and less young people caring for their elderly parents, the overall health of people as they age can be expected to decrease more rapidly than if they had greater family support, meaning more and more pressure on the health care system.

There is also a financial aspect to the population situation. With the breakdown of the hierarchical social fabric, retirement considerations become a more important factor for the up and coming generation. Knowing that even if they do have children, the likelihood of support into old age is diminishing, meaning that people are going to be forced to tuck more money away for retirement. As such, this creates a problem for a government that is trying to stimulate domestic spending to help solidify this country's massive economic growth.

There is also a gender inequality developing, particularly in the rural areas. A report a few years back in the New England Journal of Medicine noted that in some parts of this country, the male to female live birth ratios are hovering in the range of around 1.3, which means that for every 13 boys born, there will only be 10 girls. Such disparity, over time, is going to lead to problems down the road, particularly when it comes to social competition for potential mates. The desire for families to try to 'select' a male heir has also created social problems as well, including - in some extreme cases - infanticide. The restrictions on childbirth have also created a social animosity situation between the wealthy and the poor. A new trend has developed over the last few years, which is seeing the affluent simply paying the fine to have more than one child.

So as the United States marks the 35th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, and the Mike Huckabee's of the political world muse about making Constitutional changes surrounding abortion law, I think its incumbent upon the Chinese government to start looking at its reproductive policies as well. Otherwise, this country is going to start hitting serious problems down the road when it comes to its population.

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This page contains a single entry by Paul published on January 22, 2008 6:39 PM.

Will Wen Jiabao take the fall for China's soaring inflation? was the previous entry in this blog.

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