China announced Thursday that it was ending a governmental policy in which families could legally have only one child, adding it was now upping that number to two.
The policy, in force for the past three decades, was implemented in a bid to curb the country's overpopulation.
The policy was first eased in mid-2014, when authorities allowed families whose spouses were only children to have two offspring if they chose to. Now that policy has been expanded to all Chinese families.
In its early years, the policy was brutally enforced by Chinese authorities, with violators sentenced to harsh jail terms for “harming the public welfare.”
In addition, rumors abounded that parents who were limited to one child would abandon female babies, preferring to have a boy, if they could only have one.
Between 2000 and 2013, there were 117 males per 100 females in the Chinese population – substantially higher than the average in the rest of the world, where the baseline differences are no greater than 2%.
Over the years, however, enforcement has dropped off, as it has become clear that the policy was perhaps too successful.
From a rate of 2.8 births per woman in 1979 (already a sharp reduction from more than five births per woman in the early 1970s) when the policy was first introduced, China's fertility rate fell to 1.5 per woman in 2010.
As a result, China faces what demographers call a “demographic cliff,” in which the country will have more senior citizens receiving transfer payments than taxpayers. It is for this reason, said analysts, that the policy has been changed.
However, it is not clear that the change is going to engender a major “baby boom,” as the Chinese population has become much more urbanized over the past 30 years – which, the analysts said, was a much greater factor in the birth rate decline than the one-child policy.