The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

China’s One Child Policy

  • Lisa Cameron
  • Xin Meng
Reference work entry


Between 1979 and late 2013, China’s One Child Policy restricted urban couples to having only one child. In this article we review the evidence on the policy’s impact on population growth, as well as its largely unforeseen impacts on population aging, gender inequality, behaviour and values, and the economy. As a result of the policy, China’s population is not only smaller than it would have been, but also aging rapidly. The burden of looking after elderly parents and grandparents now often falls on a single child. The policy, coupled with a strong cultural preference for sons and the availability of sex-selective abortion, has led to men significantly outnumbering women. Many men now find it difficult to find a wife. Women’s scarcity has provided some benefits to women, for example, in terms of greater power within the household. The generation of only children produced by the policy has been shown to differ from previous generations – for example, being less pro-social and more risk-averse. Recent reforms to the policy allow urban couples in which at least one is an only child to now have two children. The article concludes with a discussion of the implications of this recent change.


Aging China Family planning Gender One child policy 

JEL Classification

J10 J16 O12 O29 O53 P21 
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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lisa Cameron
    • 1
  • Xin Meng
    • 1
  1. 1.