Academic journal article Population

Below Replacement Fertility Preferences in Shanghai

Academic journal article Population

Below Replacement Fertility Preferences in Shanghai

Article excerpt

Introduction and background

China has joined the group of low-fertility countries. A variety of data sources and estimation approaches of its period total fertility rate (Retherford et al., 2005; Cai, 2008; Goodkind, 2011), corroborated by cohort trends by parity (Morgan et al., 2009), suggest that China's total fertility rate (TFR) dropped from 2.8 children per woman at the end of the 1970s to somewhere in the range of 1.4 to 1.6 in 2000. This fertility level is also consistent with local official fertility regulations: the aggregation of local policies resulted in a TFR of 1.5-1.6 children per couple at the end of the 1990s (Attané, 2002; Gu et al., 2007). Indeed the timing of the transition to low fertility can be attributed in large part to the success of China's birth planning policies which were strictly enforced in urban areas, but which accommodated to the overwhelming preference for a son through the introduction of the one son-two children policy in rural areas.

But what would trends have been, and what would current levels be in the absence of the one-child policy? The answer to this interesting and important counterfactual is uncertain. Lavely and Freedman (1990) argued that the fertility decline was underway among the urban and more educated prior to major governmental intervention. And other Asian countries with far weaker family planning programmes (e.g. South Korea) have experienced remarkable fertility declines, reaching fertility levels that are now well below replacement.

So a current focus of academic and policy debate is whether and how much China's fertility would increase if the current birth planning policies were abandoned. One view is that such a move would produce a significant baby boom. A sizeable proportion of the population may have a pent-up demand for second children and perhaps a latent desire for larger families. More exactly, some assume that the almost universal preference for two children in China today will set the minimum level of fertility at 2.0 (Zeng, 2007). Others argue that Chinese fertility is somewhat higher than many current estimates suggest because female children are underreported in the census because of policies that hold birth planning officials responsible for achieving pre-set targets and quotas within their jurisdiction (Merli and Raftery, 2000; Merli et al., 2004; Goodkind, 2004; Goodkind, 2011). For example, the TFR in the 2000 census (short form) of 1.35 children per woman (0.94 in urban areas and 1.43 in rural areas) is believed to be too low. Adjusted estimates range from 1.4 to 1.6 (Retherford et al., 2005).

The opposing view, supported by a significant amount of new data and some new arguments, questions whether the current policy is necessary (Merli and Smith, 2002; Morgan et al., 2009; Cai, 2010). As noted above, other Asian countries with similar and different cultural heritages (e.g. South Korea, Singapore, Japan and Thailand) have low fertility without policies that explicitly constrain family size. Judging from the experience of these other countries, China's economic and social development would be expected to produce low fertility (although not necessarily at below replacement levels). To make this point more vividly, Figure 1 shows the total fertility rate for selected Asian countries by a frequently used indicator of social and economic development - the Human Development Index (HDI),(1) (Bongaarts and Watkins, 1996; Myrskylä et al., 2009). The data, plotted as a line for each country, cover consecutive five-year periods from 1960 to 2005. China's dramatic decline occurred at relatively low levels of HDI, a feature requiring an "exceptionalist" interpretation, such as the strong effect of China's population control policies: the "later, longer, fewer" (wan, xi, shao) campaign first, and then the "one-child policy". But the pace of decline for other countries with respect to HDI is equally dramatic while beginning at higher HDI levels. …

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