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The Evolution of China's One-Child Policy and Its Effects on Family Outcomes

Junsen Zhang

Journal of Economic Perspectives, 2017, vol. 31, issue 1, 141-60

Abstract: In 1979, China introduced its unprecedented one-child policy, under which households exceeding the birth quota were penalized. However, estimating the effect of this policy on family outcomes turns out to be complicated. China had already enacted an aggressive family planning policy in the early 1970s, and its fertility rates had already dropped sharply before the enactment of the one-child policy. The one-child policy was also enacted at almost the same time as China's market-oriented economic reforms, which triggered several decades of rapid growth, which would also tend to reduce fertility rates. During the same period, a number of other developing countries in East Asia and around the world have also experienced sharp declines in fertility. Overall, finding defensible ways to identify the effect of China's one-child policy on family outcomes is a tremendous challenge. I expound the main empirical approaches to the identification of the effects of the one-child policy, with an emphasis on their underlying assumptions and limitations. I then turn to empirical results in the literature. I discuss the evidence concerning the effects of the one-child policy on fertility and how it might affect human capital investment in children. Finally I offer some new exploratory and preliminary estimates of the effects of the one-child policy on divorce, labor supply, and rural-to-urban migration.

JEL-codes: J11 J12 J13 J18 O15 P36 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2017
Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.31.1.141
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