Deputy Director’s Corner

Deputy Director’s Corner
NPG Deputy Director Tracy Canada can be reached by email at tcanada@npg.org.
On Thursday, October 29th, China’s state-sponsored news agency Xinhua ran the following headline:  “China to allow two children for all couples.”  According to the article, the nationwide policy proposal was announced “after the Fifth Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee….”

The relaxed policy would replace China’s highly controversial mandatory one-child policy enacted in the late 1970s.  According to Xinhua:  “China’s family planning policy was first introduced… to rein in the surging population….”  The proposed two-child policy must first be approved by the “top legislature” before it is enacted.

The White House commented on the policy shift, but any hopes I might have had (what a wonderful opportunity to advocate the benefits of smaller family sizes!) were quickly dashed.  “White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the shift in policy is a positive step by China…” but apparently feels the decision “doesn’t go far enough.”  Earnest noted that “the U.S. is looking forward to the day when birth limits in China are abandoned altogether.”

Allow me to explain my disappointment, for I think it can be easily misread.  When speaking to someone new to NPG or unfamiliar with our policies, I am often asked “Does NPG promote a mandatory, forced one-child policy like China?”  And I always respond the same way:  “Absolutely not!” 

NPG believes that each family should make its own personal decision on the number of children to have.  We do not advocate any coercive measures on family size.  However… we also believe that citizens should be well-educated on the facts about population growth – and how family size contributes to overall population levels.  All governments should also provide easy access to family planning resources – as well as safe, affordable, and effective contraception – for all individuals as they make their decision.  

Any nation can achieve a smaller, more sustainable fertility rate through a combination of social leadership, education, and non-coercive incentives for smaller family sizes.

Earlier experiments by the Chinese to relax the one-child policy (in 2014, couples were allowed two children if one parent was an only child) have produced an interesting result:  “fewer people than expected… are expanding their family.”  Even after a full year of the relaxed policy, in Beijing only 30,000 eligible couples had submitted applications for a second child – just 60% of the response expected by the government.  

According to Xinhua, a March 2015 survey of over 1,000 married women in Shanghai (all under 45 years old) found that 54% said one child is enough.  CNN found that many parents – and their extended families – fear “the financial burden another baby would bring.”  One father said:  “Having another baby would cost more for their education, housing, and such.”  The preference for smaller family sizes – or even a life without children at all – is growing.

In August 2014, I wrote a column for NPG titled “The Choice to be Childfree:  An Increasing Factor in U.S. Population Growth.”  My findings in that article also apply to the recent trend appearing in China:  “the U.S. Department of Agriculture projected that – not including college expenses – parents will spend an average of $245,340 to raise one child born in 2013.”  There are also a number of benefits to having one or no children beyond just financial gain – quality of life, free time to pursue professional or personal interests, and even protecting the environment.

There is an inherent ecological cost attached to having children.  Scientists are pointing out the serious environmental implications of having a child, and many are deciding not to reproduce – or to limit their family size – in an effort to limit their carbon footprint.

In 2008, an Oregon State University study found that in the U.S., “each child adds about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average female, which is 5.7 times her lifetime emissions.”

As a population organization, certainly this shift in China’s family planning policy is of concern to NPG.  With a current population of nearly 1.4 billion, any increase in China’s fertility rates will certainly add to the global overpopulation problem.  And there has been plenty of recent news on the horrific air pollution already faced by the people of China.  CNBC reported:  “The air in Beijing is so polluted that breathing it does as much damage to the lungs as smoking 40 cigarettes a day, says a new study.”  As China’s population grows, this pollution will only worsen.

This dire future will be no different for the United States – unless we work NOW to slow, halt, and reverse our population growth.

Since 1972, NPG has worked to preserve America’s environment, economy, natural resources, and quality of life.  To learn more about our goals and objectives, please review our Proposed National Population Policy

Tracy Henke

Tracy Henke served as Deputy Director of NPG from 2012 to 2017, contributing to the structure and development of NPG’s publications programs. Acting as NPG’s principal editor and a contributing author – as well as a regular contact for the public and media, Tracy extensively researched U.S. population issues and worked to establish significant grassroots support for the NPG mission. She holds a degree in Leadership & Social Change from Virginia Tech, with a professional background in non-profit and program management.

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