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China lifts one-child policy amid worries over graying population

A Chinese woman caries a baby in a traditional basket on the outskirts of Chongqing, China, March 19, 2013..
A Chinese woman caries a baby in a traditional basket on the outskirts of Chongqing, China, March 19, 2013.. AP/Eugene Hoshiko

BEIJING - China abandoned its "one-child policy" Thursday and announced it would allow all couples to have two children, the state news agency Xinhua reported, in a sign of economic pressures from an aging population.

The move, which came after a meeting of the Communist Party leadership, reflected rising concerns over a rapidly aging population and potential labor shortages that would put immense strains on the economy in the years ahead.

Xinhua did not immediately give details of when the policy change would be implemented. China's controversial one-child policy was introduced in 1980 but was partially relaxed in 2013.

Wang Feng at the University of California at Irvine has joined other China affairs experts in warning that the country was heading towards a "demographic precipice" and a crisis that could even challenge the legitimacy of Communist Party rule.

The nation's fertility rate - 1.4 children per woman - is far below that of the United States and many other nations in the developed world, leading to a rapidly aging society and increasing demands on the state such as social programs and health care for the elderly.

It also means a substantial decline in the supply of young labor to power the economy of the world's No. 2 economy as it seeks to dethrone the United States from the top spot.

But the end of the one-child policy will do little to relieve the problem for decades, experts warn.

Wang called it "great news" even if the effects of the change will take a generation or more to possibly reverse demographic trends.

"Even though it came way too late, this really marks a historic point to end one of the most controversial and costly policies in human history," he said. "But China for decades to come will have to live with the aftermath of this costly policy."

China's working population fell for a third straight year in 2014, declining by 3.7 million to 916 million, according to government data, in a trend that is expected to accelerate in years ahead.

Meanwhile, the number of people aged 60 and above will approach 400 million, or a quarter of the population, in the early 2030s, according to United Nations forecasts. The 60-plus population currently represents about a seventh of China's people.

The one-child policy was first eased to allow couples to have a second child if either parent was an only child. Rural couples could already have a second child if their first child is a girl.

But that policy shift did not appear to lead to a big pickup in birth rates, with economic pressures and the cultural norms around having one child meaning many families decided to stay as they were.

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1
Anchor 2: Central Idea

Which factors does the article cite as reasons for China's change of policy?

  1. China's working population has been in decline.

  2. China has been spending more money on its aging population.

  3. China's Communist Party has a lot of control over the economy.

  4. China's "one-child policy" was controversial.

A

1 and 2

B

3 and 4

C

2 and 3

D

1 and 4

2
Anchor 2: Central Idea

Read this summary of the article.

China decided to end its one-child policy because of demographic trends that threatened its economic growth.

Adding which of these ideas would MOST improve the summary?

A

China's leaders fear a loss of legitimacy if they cannot fix the problem.

B

China wants to surpass the United States as the world's largest economy.

C

China adopted the policy in 1980 because of population pressure.

D

China's working population may soon be too small to support the older generations.

3
Anchor 3: People, Events & Ideas

Read this sentence from the article.

"Even though it came way too late, this really marks a historic point to end one of the most controversial and costly policies in human history," he said.

Why does this speaker, Wang Feng, think the policy change "came way too late"?

A

China is "the world's No. 2 economy," after the United States.

B

China's fertility rate is 1.4 children per woman, which is low for a developed country.

C

The working population will continue to fall, despite the change.

D

China relaxed the policy in 2013, without much effect.

4
Anchor 3: People, Events & Ideas

Which statement is BEST supported by the article?

A

Chinese government control of family size has damaged the country.

B

Economic growth in China is not related to population growth.

C

Many countries have population problems similar to China's.

D

Family size in China will continue to decrease.

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