China's Demographic Dilemma

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 7/09/2007 12:34:00 AM
Demographics seem to be of great interest over at the official Chinese publication China Daily. Here is a sampling of recent articles on the topic to give you a flavor:

China's population growth in '06
15 years needed to settle gender imbalance
Rising sex-ratio imbalance 'a danger'
China vows to halt growing sex ratio imbalance
30m men face bleak future as singles
Henan bans gender-selective abortions

China faces two main challenges with demographics as far as I can tell. First, the Party leadership appears convinced that population control has been key in enabling the country to move forward economically. However, the relative slowdown of population growth in China has been accompanied by growing imbalances in the country's sex ratio. According to the China Daily, the ratio currently stands at 118.8 male for every 100 female infants. This imbalance is suggestive of the widespread use of sex-selective abortions. The so-called "one-child policy" makes traditional preferences for male offspring more evident in a way many would consider undesirable. Although programs have been launched in the country to sensitize would-be parents to the virtues of having female children, the sex ratio has only gotten worse. Let us begin with a recent article that suggests family planning will remain in force in China despite possibly encouraging this imbalance:

The government will stick to its family planning policy for the foreseeable future despite some negative influences, a senior official said yesterday.

Zhang Weiqing, head of the national population and family planning commission, said the government will remain committed to controlling population growth and improving its quality.

"The huge population has always been a major problem that restricts the nation's economic and social development," Zhang said yesterday at a symposium in Beijing to mark the 50th anniversary of the New Population Theory put forward by Ma Yinchu, a demographer and former president of Peking University

"A smaller population is always more beneficial to the nation's prosperity, environmental protection and construction of a harmonious society."

He said many of the world's problems, such as deforestation, global warming, acid rain and the disappearance of glaciers, are all related to fast population growth.

"As a responsible country, China will adhere to the family planning policy," Zhang said.

Zhai Zhenwu, a professor at Renmin University of China, said family planning had also resulted in some bad consequences.

"It leads to fertility decline and accelerates population aging," he said. "It is also partly responsible for the sex ratio imbalance."

However, he said every policy has its negative sides, and the government is unlikely to make big changes to the present policy in the near future.

The nation's total birth rate will be controlled at 1.8, according to a national plan released in February.

While the family planning policy is popularly referred to as the "one child policy," it in fact limits only 35.9 percent of the population to having one child, he said.

One of the banzai refrains of those who propagate China scare stories--you know who they are--is that this surplus of males unable to find partners in the future will lead to many angry young men keen on taking out their frustrations via military excursions. It sounds far-fetched, but the matching challenges are likely real. The consequences, however, are up in the air to some extent. Already, sex crimes against women in areas of great imbalances are on the rise:

Today's boys may face a major problem when they become tomorrow's men - they will find it very difficult to get hitched [their term, not mine—and this in an official publication!], simply because there won't be enough women.

Sociologists are calling for swift measures to be taken to address the nation's growing gender ratio imbalance.

China now has 37 million more males than females, the People's Daily reported on Friday, without giving the source.

And the number of males below the age of 15 is 18 million more than females in the same age group, the report said.

A census in 2000 showed that the gender ratio between female and male infants was 100 to 116.9, with this widening to 100 to 118.88 in 2005.

Regional disparity also exists, with some areas reporting a ratio of 100 to 138, such as southern China's Guangdong and Hainan provinces.

"Currently, the problem does not seem to be very serious," said Tian Xueyuan, deputy director of the China Population Society. "But if it remains unchecked, when they reach the marriage age, problems will occur."

Zheng Zhenzhen, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that 10 percent of males may have difficulties finding a wife in two decades time…

Crimes targeting women are on the rise in some places where the imbalance is at its greatest, the report said, quoting sources with the National Population and Family Planning Commission.

Tian said that a deeply rooted traditional concept that "boys are better than girls" is the reason behind the imbalanced ratio.