The One-Child Policy’s Effect on Chinese Fertility

For anyone who is curious about the impact of the One-Child Policy on the Total Fertility Rate in China, I present this graph:

(click image to enlarge)

China’s TFR was 2.74 when the policy started (in 1979), less than half of what it had been just 10 years prior to the launch.

To put things in perspective: From 1950 to 2000, China’s TFR fell from about 6.5 children per woman to about 1.8 children. 80% of that decline occurred before the One-Child Policy existed.

So, if anyone tells you that the One-Child Policy caused China’s birth rate to drop significantly, please politely let them know that the data says otherwise.



  1. Freddie Matthews

    Thank you for this very useful graph. Why was the major fall in the total fertality rate before the one child police?

    • Freddie,

      That is an excellent question. I am no great scholar of Chinese history, but the period from the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s is often referred to as the ‘Cultural Revolution’ – a time when Mao Zedong’s Communist government pushed socialism and tried to purge forces that were seen as anti-Communist, anti-China, or just anti-Mao. I suspect that the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, which only ended with Mao’s death in late 1976, was a primary cause of the drop in TFR, but again, you should consult someone better informed than me about this if you want a fuller answer.

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