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Arguments - Intervention Possibilities
Population Growth

No intervention by the state can prevent China's population from increasing by another 260-300 million people, because population momentum is driving much of this growth. But this does not mean that some sort of intervention is not necessary. On the contrary, without a relatively strict family planning program (supported by fertility-reducing lifestyle change), a much larger increase is possible.

Short Description of the Problem
What can China's government do to slow population growth? To answer this question, we have to distinguish two elements of the problem:
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) The structural component in China's population growth (population momentum)
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) The future trends in reproductive behavior
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Population momentum drives China's population growth  
Much of China's future population growth cannot be affected by family planning measures. To a large extent, this growth is caused by the population momentum hidden in the young age structure of the Chinese population. China currently has more than 419 million children and young adults under the age of 20, making up one-third of the total population. Within the next 20 years these children and teenagers will reach reproductive age and will marry and have families. Even if average fertility remains as low as it currently is, millions of children will be born in the coming decades. At the same time, because of the young age structure of the population and the high life expectancy in China, relatively few people will die.
China's current population growth is a consequence of high fertility in the past. The current fertility in China is already below the level necessary to "replace" the population. In other words, with current levels of fertility and mortality, China's population would already shrink, if the very young age structure were not generating a large number of births. This structural effect is called "population momentum." In the case of China, such momentum generates substantial population growth despite the fact that the underlying vital rates should actually lead to a shrinking of the population. 
What could happen with fertility in China?  
With the current low level of fertility, China's population would grow by another 260 million people as a result of population momentum alone. However, it is unlikely that the reproductive behavior of China's citizens will remain unchanged with ongoing economic development. Conventional wisdom suggests that fertility would remain low or even decline further with increasing wealth in China. However, other developments cannot be excluded. The problem is that even very small changes in (average) fertility would massively affect the total number of people due to the enormous absolute size of the population. For instance, a drop in average fertility by only 0.07 for the next 10 years and 0.05 for the subsequent 10 years would reduce China's population by about 50 million people in 2050 (see Table 1).
Although most demographers predict a continuation of China's current low fertility for the next few decades, other developments are possible. With growing wealth and increasing civil liberties, fertility might increase again. Many Chinese families - especially farmers around big cities who have become wealthier in recent years - are frustrated with the government's one-child family policy. The widespread desire to have sons might push up fertility rates if the tight sanctions of the family planning program become less effective.
Some demographers have also argued that a modified family planning program - based on postponement of marriage and increased birth spacing - could be as effective as the current one-child policy. However, this argument is biased by model calculations that do not take into account the widespread change in attitude that would probably be triggered by a modification of the Chinese family policy. A general loosening of the one-child restrictions would be understood by a great majority as a signal from the state that large families are no longer a problem.
On the other hand, it is well documented that fertility rates in cities are already extremely low (typically around 1.4 children per woman) - not only due to the sanctions of the family planning program, but also due to lifestyle change. Young adults, particularly those in urban areas, are experiencing growing opportunities in the economic sector. They frequently postpone marriage and children to improve their educations or to start business careers. Economic aspirations and labor participation of women are known to lower fertility rates. If China's economic modernization expands to smaller cities and rural towns, this lifestyle change might counterbalance a possible trend toward larger families.
The Impact of Fertility Change on Total Population Size in China
Table 1
Related Arguments

Population:   Trends     Impact    Data Quality    Prediction Error    Intervention Possibilities    Intervention Costs

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Revision 2.0 (First revision published in 1999)  - Copyright 2011 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved. (First revision: Copyright 1999 by IIASA.)