The Scarring Effects of China’s One-Child Policy

by Reihan Salam

China’s one-child policy (OCP) is by all accounts slowly unraveling. Laurie Burkitt reports that though Chinese officials aren’t planning a formal departure from the OCP, there are clear indications of a broader rethinking. Yet even if the OCP were abandoned tomorrow, decades of enforcement will have had lasting consequences on Chinese society, as evidenced by China’s rapid aging, its gender imbalances, and, some scholars now suggest, a cultural transformation. Solomon Hsiang points us to new findings from L. Cameron, N. Erkal, L. Gangadharan, and X. Meng on the behavioral impacts of China’s one-child policy:

We document that China’s One-Child Policy (OCP), one of the most radical approaches to limiting population growth, has produced significantly less trusting, less trustworthy, more risk-averse, less competitive, more pessimistic, and less conscientious individuals. Our data were collected from economics experiments conducted with 421 individuals born just before and just after the OCP’s introduction in 1979. Surveys to elicit personality traits were also used. We used the exogenous imposition of the OCP to identify the causal impact of being an only child, net of family background effects. The OCP thus has significant ramifications for Chinese society. [Emphasis added]

An obvious and perhaps unanswerable come to mind — would we find similar behavioral impacts in more affluent societies that have seen steep fertility declines? 

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.