Sunday, October 3, 2010

Family Planning

It was a popular week for family planning. First there was a TED talk by Mechai Viravaidya discussing the work he has done in Thailand to encourage family planning, in particular, the use of condoms. How Mr. Condom made Thailand a better place:

It is too bad the religious nuts in the U.S. aren't swayed by evidence showing that abstinence education does not work. Then I came across an article in Science, Has China Outgrown The One-Child Policy?, about the effects of the one-child policy on the Chinese population. One issue is a rapidly aging population:
The country has benefited from a "demographic dividend"—a surfeit of young workers born during a 1960s baby boom—that will dry up as China gets old before it gets rich. From 2010 to 2020, the number of Chinese aged 20 to 24 will drop by a whopping 45%, from 125 million to 68 million.
If you look at an age pyramid for China you can see that the population is starting to contract:

I'm not sure what caused the sharp reduction of individuals in their twenties compared to teens and those in their thirties. Here is a similar pyramid for to the United States:

The pyramid for Afghanistan shows a more typical pyramid shape:

However, if you look carefully at the age pyramid for China there is another problem. There are considerably more males than females:
China's ratio of male to female births—now 119 boys born for every 100 girls—has been "really intensified by the family-planning policy," says Shuzhuo Li, a demographer at Xi'an Jiaotong University. The gender imbalance is projected to yield 30 million more men than women by 2030, heightening the risk of social instability.
The skew seems to be the result of cultural preferences for a male child leading to practices such as sex-selective abortions. These problems are further compounded by the complexity of the laws:
That decentralized structure, which still stands, has yielded a clunky policy that is comparable in complexity to the U.S. tax code, says Wang. To discourage sex-selective abortion, many provinces allow rural parents whose first child is a girl to try again for a boy, an exception sometimes called the "1.5-child policy." All told, there are 22 exceptions qualifying a couple for more children, ranging from one partner being disabled to one being a miner.
Another similarity to the U.S. tax industry is the huge bureaucracy that has been built up around the policy:
As of 2005, the family-planning bureaucracy had swollen to 509,000 employees, along with 6 million workers who help with implementation. Those stakeholders are "risk-averse," says Wang. "They pay no cost for doing nothing."
It'll be interesting to see how China reacts to these problems in the coming decades.

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