In particular, Sen cites the rapid expansion of schooling and job opportunities for women. “What China needs now,” he adds, “is further expansion of rethinking within families to overcome ‘boy preference,’ which is still widespread, despite being at odds with the success of Chinese women.”
Statistics that compare different countries, as well as empirical analysis of data from hundreds of districts within India, indicate sharply that the two most potent factors that induce fertility reduction globally are women’s schooling and women’s paid employment.
There is no mystery in this. The lives that are most battered by over-frequent bearing and rearing of children are those of young mothers, and more schooling and more gainful employment both give young women a greater voice in family decisions — a voice that tends to work in the direction of cutting down the frequency of births. Rapid expansion in China of education, including that of girls, and the enhancement of job opportunities for young women occurred through a series of decades that began well before the introduction of the one-child policy, and they have continued robustly since.
As it happens, fertility rate declines in China have been close to what we would expect on the basis of these social influences alone. China often gets too much credit from commentators on the alleged effectiveness of its harsher interventions, and far too little for the positive role of its supportive policies (including its heavy focus on education and health care, from which many other countries can learn).
The birth rate dropped not because of top-down regulations but because of bottom-up needs.
Image: Thomas Depenbusch