China announced Thursday the country will end the 36-year-old One Child Policy in an attempt to help deal with an aging work force and a gender imbalance.
The surprise announcement from the country’s ruling Communist Party ended a policy that for more than three decades led to an imbalanced sex ratio because of a preference for males, and brutal enforcement that sometimes included forced abortions.
Here are five things to know about the change in policy.
Why was the policy created?
First implemented in 1979, China’s leaders attempted to control an exploding population that was putting a strain on the countries like food and water.
“The country was of its incapacity to care for the population and to provide everyone with what was needed,” said Ka Tat Tsang , a professor of social work at the University of Toronto. “The uncontrolled exponential growth of the population put undue strain on the country’s production of goods and services.”
“Basically the thinking behind it was one less mouth to feed.”
Why change the one-child policy now?
In a message from the party’s Central Committee carried by the state Xinhua News Agency said the decision to allow all couples to have two children was “to improve the balanced development of population” and try to stem an aging labour force.
The working-age in China –those aged 15 to 64–is drastically shrinking and the United Nations projects that China will lose 67 million workers from 2010 to 2030. The elderly population is expected to double from 110 million in 2010 to 210 million in 2030, according to the U.N.
Has the policy been changed before?
Rules around the one-child policy were loosened two years ago when couples were permitted to have two children if one parent came from a single-child household.
What impact has it had on China
The Chinese government credited the one-child policy with preventing 400 million births and in the process helped to alleviate poverty. A preference for male babies under the regime led to a huge gender imbalance that has left millions of men unable to marry, said Tsang.
“You have a huge number of grassroots level Chinese men who are typically the less educated and lower income who cannot find a partner,” he said.
Tsang said South Korea had a similar policy regarding a sex imbalance that resulted in men importing “migrant wives” from nearby Asian countries. Because the imbalance is significantly bigger in China this has not been a viable solution.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics in China the country has about 700 million men to 667 million women.
What are the future implications?
Some demographers and sociologists say not much will change as many wealthy and middle income families are choosing to have fewer children, a trend that is common among many east Asian countries.
One area that could grow with more children is the global baby industry. On Thursday, news of the end to the one-child policy caused shares in Mead Johnson Nutrition Co., the maker of Enfamil formula, to spike to a two-month high.
WATCH: UBC professor Aprodicio Laquia talks to Global News about why China has loosened its family planning program.
*With files from the Associated Press