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One in a billion

China todayChina today - One in a billion

In the final lesson, ‘One in a Billion', students explore population growth and contemporary population issues in China.

Key questions

  • How has the government tried to control the growth of population in China?
  • Why is there a gender imbalance in China?
  • How is China coping with an increasingly ageing population?

Key Concepts

  • Place
  • Physical and human processes
  • Cultural understanding and diversity

China is the most populous country in the world. Of every five persons in the world, one is Chinese. The growth rate is about 0.6%, the lowest for any developing country, but because its population is so huge, annual net population growth is still considerable.

The government introduced the One Child Policy in 1979 to limit population growth. This limits couples to one child although it is mainly restricted to Han Chinese living in urban areas. Fines, pressures to abort a pregnancy and forced sterilization could be enforced with a second pregnancy. It is estimated that this rule has reduced population growth by as much as 300 million people over the first 20 years of its implementation.

However, because couples often prefer male children and may abort or abandon girl babies if they are only permitted one child, this has resulted in the disparate ratio of 114 males for every 100 females born. By 2020 there may be 30 million men of marriageable age who will not be able to find a wife.

It has been calculated that between 2000 and 2007, the number of Chinese 65 or older grew from just under 100 million to more than 200 million. This means a jump in older people of more than four million a year, with their numbers making up as much as 14% of the population in 2007. China is now one of the most rapidly ageing countries in the world. There is concern about the breakdown of traditional cultural practices where children take care of parents in their old age. Many young people are forced to move away by the demands of finding work.

Sometime between 2030 and 2050 there could be only two workers for every person who is retired (currently 6:1) which would wipe out China's low-cost labour advantage and put a huge strain on China's welfare provision. China will need to bring in pension reforms such as reducing the benefit rates and raising the retirement age.






In pairs, small groups or as a class look at the China...an ageing population interactive or look at the graphs on the ‘China...an ageing population' document.

The graphs show how China's population is expected to change between 1990 and 2050.

The red bars show China's population above the age of 60, the blue bars show the population under 60.

What happens to the red part of the graph as the years pass?



Use the China population data sheet and the China population data.

How has population changed in China in the last 50 years?

How has the government influenced these changes?

The growing gender imbalance in China is controversial because of its links to female infanticide. Why would male children be preferred by parents only allowed to have one child?

It is also fascinating because there are now growing numbers of men who are unlikely to find partners in adult life. There is also the darker side involving child trafficking with females from the poorer south being stolen or bought and taken north to be sold as wives when they grow up.

Watch the BBC new video clip - China facing gender crisis.



How can governments control the numbers of children that couples have?

Think of one incentive to have fewer children?

One incentive to have more children?

What penalties might you have to encourage people to do as your government wishes?

Share your ideas with the rest of the class.

Did you know that ‘population polices' are not new or only linked to over-population or China:

In Nazi Germany, Hitler awarded medals to the mothers of three or more children. His efforts to boost population growth clearly corresponded with the Third Reich's aggressive foreign policies.

The small village of Laviano, south-east of Naples, was running so short of babies in 2003 that mayor Rocco Falivena offered the equivalent of £7,000 to anyone who produces one.

The French government is worried by the reluctance of successful professional women to have many children. As a result, middle-class mothers in France could now be paid up to €1,000 (£675) a month - almost the minimum wage - if they stop work for a year and have a third child.

Singapore's 'Baby Bonus' savings scheme where the state saves on behalf of the parents of a child in order to help fund its education. It is hoped this reduced burden on the parents will lead to a surge in newborns.

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