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Effect Evaluation of the Selective Two-child Policy and Suggestions for Future Population Policy


By Zhu Hongming & Lei Wei

Research Report Vol.17 No.4, 2015

I. Limited Effect on Boosting Birth Rate

1. The number of applications for a second-child permit is small and past its peak.

In mid December 2013, the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China decided to initiate the selective two-child policy (allowing couples to have a second child if either husband or wife is the only child in his or her family), and to gradually improve the fertility policy. It has been a year since the policy was implemented, as far as the actual effect of the policy is concerned, there are not many applications for a second child permit, and the so-called blowout phenomenon of applications does not appear. Currently, there are about 11 million couples eligible to have a second child across the nation. However, only 0.92 million have requested for a second-child permit by the end of 2014, and the number is only 1.39 million by May 2015. Many cities have the same situation. For example, 33,000 women of childbearing age in Yangzhou City are eligible to have a second child, but by the end of June 2015, only 3,327 couples, with no siblings on either husband’s or wife’s side, applied for a second child permit. And the application rate of the urban population in Nantong City is only 4.6%, and the rate of Rudong County (under the jurisdiction of Nantong) is less than 10%. As far as the development trend is concerned, the number of applications has passed its peak. The peak is reached in the first few months after the policy was initiated, and the number of applications has dropped now. In July and August last year, the number of applications was about 150,000 countrywide; by the end of last year, the figure stayed around 80,000 to 90,000 per month. Two groups of people contributed to the application peak. One group were those who were pregnant before the policy was implemented, and submitted an ex-post application for the permit; the other were those who had a strong childbearing desire. These two groups of people will complete the application procedure in a few months. For example, the number of applications in Nantong was 471 in April 2014, and in July it fell to 299; the figure in Shenzhen was 2647 in May 2014, and then gradually decreased to about 1200. The figure of Yangzhou was 449 in May 2014; while from January to the end of June in 2015, the figure was 1026, with an average of only 171 pairs of couples per month.

2. There is a huge difference between the number of applications and the actual child births.

It will take some time before the actual effect of the selective two-child policy on fertility rate begin to fully show up. But it is clear that the number of births will be lower than the number of applications. The reason for the delayed effect of this policy lies in the huge disparity between childbearing desire, acquisition of advance childbirth permit and fertility behavior. We had surveyed 246 married women of childbearing age in 6 communities of Guangdong Province. Among them, 31 women were eligible to have a second child, and 8 had filed or were filing their application. But only 2 women admitted they would have a second child in the next one or two years. A joint survey of six counties conducted by Jiangsu Provincial Family Planning Commission and the Academy of Social Sciences from 2006 to 2010 showed that, in the 2007 baseline survey, among those rural women who had a child already, and were eligible to have a second child, only 6% gave birth to a second child within 3 years. Among those who were eligible and had made it clear that they would certainly have a second child, only 44% did as what they said within four years. While those who explicitly said that they did not intend to have another child, 2% of them did give birth to a second child before 2010. The percentage was also very low, about 7%, for those women without the second-child plan but actually had a second child. Zheng Zhenzhen summarized as “those who didn’t have plans to have a second child almost all kept their promises; but those who did have plans have not fully implemented them”. The small-sample survey of ours reaches similar conclusion as that of the study mentioned above. That is, those who are eligible and have a strong desire to have a second child won’t necessarily give birth to a second child. Besides, there are some other factors making those women without a second-child plan apply for the permit. For example, some places still have strict requirements for birth control. In order to avoid birth control operations, some women would apply for the permit to have a second child, which results in an overestimate of future fertility rate. Before the selective two-child policy was initiated, some scholars predicted that the annual additional population would be 2 million at most. But in light of the current 1.39 million permit holders, including those who gave birth to a second child first, applied for the permit later. So there is a huge gap between the number of applications and the actual number of births. The actual number of births will be far less than 2 million, and the effect of this new policy on population growth is quite limited.

II. Reasons for Limited Effect of New Fertility Policy on Fertility Behavior

1. With loosened restrictions of family planning policy on extra births, the rebound of child births brought by the relaxed policy is limited.

China’s family planning policy is carried out mostly through administrative and legal means. However in recent years, its compulsory function has been weakened. First, incidents of related personal injury have dropped significantly. With the growing understanding of respecting and protecting citizens’ personal rights and the introduction of informed choices in conducting family planning work, very few vicious incidents like abortions and birth-control operations take place. Second, the effect of family planning on household registration for children and their schooling has been weakened. The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Public Security have repeatedly taken measures to deal with violations of connecting family planning with school attending and household registration so as to ensure those children born into the families against the family planning policy enjoy basic rights and benefits. Although there is still different practice in actual law enforcement, the effect of family planning policy has been weakened. Third, there are also many difficulties in collecting social maitenance fee. Currently, social maitenance fee is collected in only two ways: direct collection, and court execution. Since family planning authorities don’t have the power of law enforcement, if those who are charged do not comply, the only wayout is to resort to court for compulsory execution. In the field studies, we found many local family planning authorities complained that court proceedings cost so much time and money that they didn’t have enough staff or other resources for the work. Besides, the court cannot enforce payments on families not affordable for social maitenance fee. In addition, social maintenance fee is an important source of local fiscal revenue in some poor areas. Some local family planning officials would tolerate and even encourage extra births to receive social maintenance fee. These are not rare or temporary incidents. Hence, in our interviews, some officials said that, to a large extent, “the family planning policy could only constrain those who were paid by public finance (civil servants, and those who work in public institutions and state-owned enterprises, etc.), while non-public job holders who had a strong desire to have more children basically all did”. Therefore, the relaxation of family planning policy doesn’t really result in a strong rebound of births as expected.

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