Leta Hong Fincher:
The Communist Party’s announcement that it will loosen the one-child policy is, of course, welcome news. Married couples will be allowed to have two children if only one of the spouses is an only child, meaning that millions more couples will now be exempted from previous family planning restrictions. Yet it’s too soon to predict what the long-term demographic consequences of the change will be.
In many parts of the country, the one-child policy has already been unofficially whittled away. While a little more than one third of China’s families have only one child, almost two-thirds of families already have more than one child, according to demographers. If rural couples have a girl, they are generally allowed to try again for a boy, and some rural couples try two or even three more times to have that coveted boy, with no drastic consequences other than paying a fine. In other areas, we can see that the policy is still sometimes used by local officials to force women to have late-term abortions. After this latest policy change, there will almost certainly be a decline in the most coercive family-planning tactics.
Obviously, the policy change will have a much larger impact in the cities, where the one-child policy has been most rigidly applied. I have personally interviewed young, urban newlyweds who express a desire to have two children if possible, so expect some kind of baby bump, but how large will it be? The cost of living has become so high that even if couples say they want two children, perhaps they will find that they can't afford it in the end. And then there are many young Chinese who say they don’t even want one child because housing and education are too expensive. So the “two-child” policy may end up being of more symbolic importance than anything else.