The Limits (and Human Costs) of Population Policy: Fertility Decline and Sex Selection in China under Mao
The vast majority of China’s fertility decline predates the famous One Child Policy – and instead occurred under its predecessor, the Later, Longer, Fewer (LLF) fertility control policy. In this paper, we first study LLF’s contribution to marriage and fertility behavior, finding that the policy reduced China’s total fertility rate by about 0.9 births per woman, explaining only 28% of China’s modern fertility decline. Given son preference, we then consider the parallel issue of sex selection, which also emerged prior to the One Child Policy (when prenatal selection was not technologically feasible). We find that LLF increased the use of male-biased fertility stopping rules from 3.25% to 6.3% of couples – and that it contributed to the early emergence of postnatal neglect of girls in modern China, rising from none to 0.3% of births (implying 210,000 previously unrecognized missing girls). Considering Chinese population policy to be extreme in global experience, our results demonstrate the limits of population policy’s ability to reduce fertility – and its potential for unintended consequences.
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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w25130