By Talia Dennis

China’s one-child policy was deemed both a success and a failure during a special symposium hosted by the Maryland Population Research Center Feb. 16, which coincidentally was the day of the Chinese New Year.

Each of the four panelists had 15 to 20 minutes to share their studies that looked at the policy from varying perspectives.

A prominent point made for the positive outcome of the policy came from Stan Becker, who holds a Ph.D. in demography and is a professor of population, family and reproductive health at Johns Hopkins University, who focused on a “small family norm.”

The world population continues to rapidly grow and the planet is not getting any bigger. In the West, women are encouraged to have children for various reasons, he said. However, having fewer children will significantly reduce our carbon footprint, Becker said, referencing a graphic from The Guardian. The image shows having one fewer child will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by almost 64.6 U.S. tons per year per person.

“Maybe we can learn something from China’s example,” he said, after telling a brief anecdote about one Chinese woman’s views. On a bus in China, Becker discussed the country’s family planning policy with a woman he had just met. He said she did not want to have a child “for the good of the country.” It startled him, but he came to believe this was a good mindset to have from a environmental standpoint.

Becker clarified that he did not think the U.S. government should control its population growth through coercion, like China where some mothers were encouraged to get abortions. Instead, he hoped rapidly growing countries would develop a smaller family attitude for the sake of the planet.

Dr. Daniel Goodkind, an independent researcher, did not want to pick sides on whether the policy was a success or failure. However, from a demographic lens, the policy seemed to achieve its goal of reducing China’s population, but lasted too long based on his discussion.

He argued the Chinese government should have been more aware of the residual impact of the policy because the birth rates would continue to shrink after rolling it back.

The policy was updated to a two-child policy in 2015, which took effect Jan. 1 of the following year. Fewer people were replacing those who were leaving the workforce population so the looser policy was intended to fix the issue before it became a catastrophic problem.

However, Goodkind’s projections show there will be fewer births after 2018. One reason is the prevented births that resulted in not as many existing, potential mothers.

The only female and Chinese panelist at the symposium was Guo Chen, a Michigan State University associate professor and fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center who holds a doctorate in geography. She talked about other possible factors that could have led to the decrease in China’s population, like the increase in owning a home and the cost of raising a child.

In addition to discussing her research, she shared stories about experiences with the policy.

“Look at women and their choices,” Chen said during the question and answer period about her friend who lives in China.

Her friend has one child and is healthy enough to have another, but has chosen not to because her husband is helping out around the house and she has a good job and does not have time to take care of two children.

Klaus Hubacek, a geographical sciences professor at this university, who holds a Ph.D. in ecological economics, tied his lifestyle approach with Becker’s environmental argument, specifically referencing pollution. Hubacek compared the pollution of people in rural and urban areas based on low, middle and high incomes.

“The more you have, the more you spend, the higher your carbon footprint,” he said.

Environmentally, having 320-500 million fewer people polluting is good, he said, referring to the births averted estimates the other panelists mentioned.

Dr. Sangeetha Madhavan, the associate director for the Maryland Population Research Center was satisfied with the turnout of approximately 30 people because “it’s a specific topic in U.S. demography and not a lot of people know what it is.”

“It was motivated by an article in Demography … on the role of China’s family planning policies on the Chinese fertility decline,” said Madhavan. “The controversy that the article generated was picked up by Science so we thought it presented a great opportunity to engage with larger concern about the formulation of population policies and the implication policies on a range of issues including the environment and human rights.”

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Wikicommons.

Talia is a sophomore journalism major and history major and can be reached at

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