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China revokes 1-child policy to pump new life into aging 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 — China has abandoned its "one-child policy," the government-controlled state news agency Xinhua reported Thursday. Under the new guidelines, all couples will be allowed to have two children.

The move came after a meeting of the country's Communist Party leadership. China's Communist Party controls China's government and has a strong say in how companies, and the overall economy, are run in the country.

China's move reflected rising concerns over a rapidly aging population and potential labor shortages that would put immense strains on the economy in the years ahead.

One-Child Policy Launched In 1980

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, a China affairs expert at the University of California at Irvine, and others have long warned that the aging of China's population could eventually pose serious problems. They have predicted the eventual crisis could even challenge the legitimacy of Communist Party rule.

China's Birth Rate Trails Far Behind

The nation's birth rate — 1.4 children per woman — is far below that of the United States and many other nations in the developed world. When two parents have two children, then a country's population stays the same. If families have less than two children, the number of people goes down — unless a country boosts its population by allowing in immigrants from other countries.

China's low rate has led to a rapidly aging society and increasing demands on the state, which has had to provide more health care for the elderly and other social programs.

It also means a substantial decline in the supply of young labor to power the economy of the world's second-largest economy as it seeks to dethrone the United States from the top spot.

Population Change Will Take Decades, Experts Say

However, 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 population 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. The trend is expected to accelerate in years ahead. In other words, the decline in the number of workers will worsen.

And The Chinese People Continue To Age

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.

However, that policy shift did not appear to lead to a big pickup in birth rates. Money concerns and the cultural norms around having one child meant many families decided to stay as they were.

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1
Anchor 2: Central Idea

Which sentence from the article illustrates a cost of China's old policy and the limits of the government's power?

A

China's Communist Party controls China's government and has a strong say in how companies, and the overall economy, are run in the country.

B

China's low rate has led to a rapidly aging society and increasing demands on the state, which has had to provide more health care for the elderly and other social programs.

C

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

D

The one-child policy was first eased to allow couples to have a second child if either parent was an only child.

2
Anchor 2: Central Idea

Which of these answer choices BEST summarizes the ideas in the section "China's Birth Rate Trails Far Behind"?

A

Chinese policy has produced a lower birth rate than in many other developed countries.

B

For years, families in cities could only have one child each, while families in rural areas could often have two.

C

The Communist Party in China has power over the government and much of the economy.

D

As a result of the one-child policy, China now has too few workers to support its older population and run the economy.

3
Anchor 3: People, Events & Ideas

According to the article. which is NOT a reason to end the one-child policy?

A

The state is spending too much money supporting older people.

B

The Communist Party may gain more power.

C

There are fewer young people to work for China's companies.

D

China could lose its spot as one of the leading world economies.

4
Anchor 3: People, Events & Ideas

What reason does the article give that the change in policy might NOT reverse population trends?

A

Because of money and cultural norms, parents may now prefer to have only one child.

B

The policy has been very controversial and costly for China.

C

The Communist Party has control over government policy and much of the economy.

D

China's working population has been falling and is expected to continue.

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