Japan from the inside out

Shanghai ending one-child policy

Posted by ampontan on Monday, July 27, 2009

THE TIMES OF LONDON is reporting that the municipal government of Shanghai, China, is now encouraging married couples to have a second child. The government has been holding the line at one toddler for 30 years, and has gone so far as to forcibly sterilize women or abort pregnancies.

The reason?

“The move was prompted by the growing demographic imbalance in the city and fears that the younger generation will not be able to support the ageing population


‘Shanghai’s over-60 population already exceeds three million, or 21.6 per cent of registered residents,’ Zhang Meixin, a spokesman for the Shanghai commission, said…


The elderly population is rising at a similar rate across the rest of China, mainly in cities, with the working-age population expected to start shrinking in about 2015. The overall population will peak in 2030, with China becoming the first country to grow old before it grows rich and therefore able to support a nation of pensioners.”

(Emphasis mine)

It is worth examing the cause for the aging of the population in China. The article quotes one of the parents:

“It costs more than 35,000 yuan (£3,500) a year just to leave our baby in a kindergarten. Why spend this amount of money on a second?”

This is of interest in Japan, and not only because of the country’s aging population. One of the centerpiece policies of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan is the introduction of a monthly government stipend to parents for child-rearing through junior high school. They seem to be on the verge of taking power, and they promise this measure will be one of their first legislative acts.

The excuse they give echoes that of the parents above: Japanese parents say they can’t afford more children. But I use the word excuse instead of justification intentionally, and the next sentence in the article explains why:

Many young couples are willing to have one child to continue the family line, but they let the grandparents raise it so that they can go to bars and restaurants and go shopping and travelling without being restricted by the responsibilities of children.

The Japanese don’t slough off child-rearing responsibilities to the grandparents to an extent worth mentioning, but the idea is the same: Having children cramps one’s style.

Someone has the wit to see the contradiction:

“One person remembered the policies of the 1950s and 1960s when Chairman Mao appealed for large families. ‘Our parents were poor and they had five or six children.'”

Alas, this reporter too is not immune to the journalistic afflication of a failure to distinguish news reports from op-eds:

The one couple, one child family-planning policy is less rigorous than its name suggests. Urban parents are permitted to have two children if the husband and wife were only children. In rural areas, couples are allowed a second child if their first is a girl.

That still sounds excessively “rigorous” to me. Besides, it’s not a question of degrees of rigor; when a government gets involved in family planning, either by limiting or encouraging new babies, it is a question of despotism.

“The one couple, one child family-planning policy is not applicable to all households” is shorter and contains no reference to what the author thinks is or isn’t harsh.

This is the subject of another post I’ve been working on, which will include why government schemes encouraging larger families have historically failed, and why the DPJ speaks with a forked tongue on this issue, as they do with several others.

Since the concern is really about finding revenue units to fund social welfare services, the obvious solution would be to reduce costs by having people accept more responsibility for their own social welfare, and eliminating large swaths of otherwise unnecessary government while they’re at it, but that’ll have to wait until later.

Soon come!

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