For many of us it’s hard enough to imagine that any government could mandate—and successfully implement--the number of children a family could have. But for the past 30+ years China has been doing just that.

From a cultural perspective, as you all know, China is a high group culture which means that personal rights are often sacrificed in favor of the good of the community, and that was certainly a factor in China's ability to successfully implement the program

The One-Child policy was introduced in 1979 as a temporary measure to curb population growth (the basis on which the Chinese government today claims it was a success). It was part of Deng Xiaoping's plan to stem wild population growth and dramatically increase GDP. Given that definition, you might say it worked.

But the enormous problems with this policy have been obvious for years and Chinese demographers have been urging the government to change it. In 2012, there were 6.7 million forced abortions and more than 10 million a year in previous years; there have been millions of forced sterilizations; and we all know the stories of voluntary abortions of female fetuses because pregnant mothers wanted their “One Child” to be a boy.

Now, the unintended consequences may have disastrous results, and some demographers don’t think they can be averted in one generation. According to many reports there are now over 30 million more marriage-aged young men than women. (That’s almost the population of Canada.) China also faces a rapidly aging population. This skewed elderly demographic brings with it slowing economic activity, labor shortages because there won’t be as many young people to work, and increased costs for health care, etc.

And you’re probably well acquainted with the “Little Emperor” phenomenon. In 1983, 91% of all children born in China were “singletons” or only children (compared to 27% in 1975). These are the kids who are the object of attention and resources of six adults (two parents and four grandparents).

You can clearly see the impact of culture.

Here’s a society that can pivot on a dime. It can move 250 million villagers into new cities at will; it can invoke eminent domain upon short notice, and it can build islands in the middle of the ocean. Unlike many other countries, China doesn’t have to go through a lengthy debates causing years of delay and Chinese public opinion would have probably supported a change in the One-Child policy.

Could it be that the fearing loss of face forced China to continue this policy even after many people said it could have disastrous effects?

After all, decades of Chinese leadership have supported this position. In a culture such as China, where people have little control over the actions of their leadership, leaders will often continue to pursue questionable policies because they are unchallenged. Backtracking in any way risks making both the leaders and followers look bad.

Questions loom: What’s to become of 30 million men who do not have a female mate? What about the risk to the economic structure that relies upon young workers to support China’s economic engine? What about the impact on society that relies upon a balanced age distribution to sustain its aged and traditional reverence and care for the elderly?

In the face of all the data showing that the policy may have been unnecessary to tame growth and that it might even have catastrophic results, why do you think it took so long to change? Share your thoughts below.

November 6, 2015: Edited for Tone and Language: 

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