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China: population change and population control

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Since 1949 China's population has increased by 500 million and thereby grown at an average rate of 2 % per year. Annual growth rates have varied dramatically, falling from 3.3 % in 1963 to 1.2 % in 1979 and registering a population decline of 13.5 million in the famine years of 1960/61. China's demographic disaster in 1958/61 ranks as one of the most devastating in the history of the world. Chinese leaders have oscillated between pro- and anti-natalist policies. However, in the 1970s the government launched its third, its most intensive and to date its most successful family planning programme. So succesful that the total fertility rate declined from 6.4 in 1968 to 2.2 in 1980 and the level of contraceptive use in China was raised to the levels currently experienced in the Developed World. Despite the high rate of contraceptive prevalence, induced abortion is still extensively used to prevent unplanned births. The extent to which China's birth control programme has been implemented on a voluntary, coercive or compulsory basis is open to question. A rapid increase in the age of marriage and a substantial improvement in female education have made important contributions to the decline in fertility. Large differences in fertility exist between rural and urban China, reflecting significant differences in the average age of marriage and the very marked difference in educational attainment between the cities and the countryside. Whether the government directed family planning programme or socio-economic development has had the greatest impact on the decline in fertility, is under discussion. Whatever the motive force, the pace of demographic modernisation has been impressive and by international standards China now enjoys advanced levels of demographic development at an early stage of economic development.

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Jowett, A.J. China: population change and population control. GeoJournal 12, 349–363 (1986). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00262358

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  • Annual Growth Rate
  • Total Fertility Rate
  • Motive Force
  • Advanced Level
  • Family Planning Programme