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

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  • Junsen Zhang
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    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.

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    Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

    Volume (Year): 31 (2017)
    Issue (Month): 1 (Winter)
    Pages: 141-160

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    Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:31:y:2017:i:1:p:141-60
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.31.1.141
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    1. Besley, Timothy & Case, Anne, 2000. "Unnatural Experiments? Estimating the Incidence of Endogenous Policies," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 110(467), pages 672-694, November.
    2. Daniel Goodkind, 2011. "Child Underreporting, Fertility, and Sex Ratio Imbalance in China," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 48(1), pages 291-316, February.
    3. Hongbin Li & Junsen Zhang & Yi Zhu, 2005. "The Effect of the One-Child Policy on Fertility in China: Identification Based on the Differences-in-Differences," Discussion Papers 00019, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Department of Economics.
    4. Emla Fitzsimons & Bansi Malde, 2014. "Empirically probing the quantity–quality model," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 27(1), pages 33-68, January.
    5. Esther Duflo, 2001. "Schooling and Labor Market Consequences of School Construction in Indonesia: Evidence from an Unusual Policy Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(4), pages 795-813, September.
    6. Ahn, Namkee, 1994. "Effects of the One-Child Family Policy on Second and Third Births in Hebei, Shaanxi and Shanghai," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 7(1), pages 63-78.
    7. Fei Wang & Liqiu Zhao & Zhong Zhao, 2017. "China’s family planning policies and their labor market consequences," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 30(1), pages 31-68, January.
    8. Avraham Ebenstein, 2010. "The "Missing Girls" of China and the Unintended Consequences of the One Child Policy," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 45(1).
    9. Haoming Liu, 2014. "The quality–quantity trade-off: evidence from the relaxation of China’s one-child policy," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 27(2), pages 565-602, April.
    10. Dennis Tao Yang & Marjorie McElroy, 2000. "Carrots and Sticks: Fertility Effects of China's Population Policies," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(2), pages 389-392, May.
    11. Birney, Mayling, 2014. "Decentralization and Veiled Corruption under China’s “Rule of Mandates”," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 53(C), pages 55-67.
    12. Dudley Poston & Baochang Gu, 1987. "Socioeconomic development, family planning, and fertility in China," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 24(4), pages 531-551, November.
    13. Zhang, Junsen & Spencer, Byron G, 1992. "Who Signs China's One-Child Certificate, and Why?," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 5(3), pages 203-214, August.
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