Chinese Consumers and Fresh Apples

Population Growth: China’s One-Child Policy

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Jan 15, 2013

Does being an only child matter?

Our answer starts with a sunflower seed story.

There once was a poor Chinese farmer who believed he could excel at nothing but sunflower seeds. Traditionally sold in bulk with other types of nuts, sunflower seeds had been nothing unusual. But then calling them Idiot’s Seeds, the farmer, Mr. Nian, stir-fried, salted, and packaged them. Soon, during the 1980s, millions of people in China were munching Idiot’s Seeds as they watched TV or played cards.

This takes us to China’s economic growth. According to an M.I.T. scholar, entrepreneurs like Mr. Nian fueled growth during the 1980s but then, after 1990, were constrained by the spread of SOEs (state owned enterprises). Now, a new study suggests another way that the Chinese government might be diminishing entrepreneurial initiative. Comparing Chinese children born before and after the one-child policy began during 1979, Australian researchers have concluded that being an only child in China could make you less willing to take risks, compete, trust people and be trustworthy.

So yes, with their GDP second only to the US, China’s economic growth has been meteoric. And their population growth has slowed (see below). However, their male biased one-child policy might have unintended economic consequences.

The UN line reflects current policy while the second line indicates results of universal implementation.

The UN line reflects current policy while the second line indicates the results of universal implementation.

Sources and Resources: This marketplace.org series of reports is a superb summary of China’s one-child policy. An excellent complement, the Australian research on the impact of single child is described in this Science Magazine podcast and transcript. (The study is gated.) Also this Bloomberg article and BBC article discuss the research and here is The Economist link for the above graph. Finally, for more on the Chinese economy, you can download the first chapter of Capitalism With Chinese Characteristics and also go to econlife here (where I first told the sunflower seed story), here and here.

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