Chinese leaders implemented the one-child policy in 1980 in an effort to rein in explosive population growth and help raise living standards. It was rooted in a Mao Zedong-era baby boom. China’s population rose by nearly half to about 807 million people in 1969 from when the Communist Party took over the country 20 years before. That led to fears among the leadership that China faced a population boom it couldn’t feed.
Demographers began to present a united front in 2000, arguing that China was dangerously close to falling below a replacement rate of 2.1 children for every woman. Activists stepped up opposition. Chen Guangcheng, the blind activist who famously escaped home confinement and made his way to the U.S. embassy in 2012, became well-known in China in the 2000s for opposing forced abortion.
China effectively hobbled the one-child policy in 2013, when it allowed couples to have two children if one parent came from a household without other siblings. It has also long allowed exceptions in some parts of the country.
Just like on Thursday, the 2013 move led to a frenzy of anticipation from baby-related businesses and a brief bump in shares of Chinese formula makers and other baby-related companies. It resulted in 1.45 million new birth applications as of the end of May, according to the most recent data from the China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission. But the figures have so far disappointed many demographers.
Even rural residents, many of whom have been exempt of the one-child policy, are reluctant to have bigger families, said Scott Rozelle, co-director of Stanford University’s Rural Education Action Program. “Fertility has collapsed in rural and poor areas,” said Mr. Rozelle. “Anyone there can have two or three babies, but no one wants that.”