The vast majority of Chinese (in China), those in their 20’s and 30’s, have no siblings, which is why it’s coincidental that I know two young women, Ms S and Ms B, who have one sibling. Ms S’s grandfather was a government official so their family received a special exemption for the second child. Ms B’s family chose to move to western China to a province where the fine for the second child was a lesser hardship.
Even though China’s overall population has been increasing, the jury’s been out for a while, the one-child policy has had the desired effect of significantly reducing the birth rate and controlling population growth. Fortunately for some, the policy has been somewhat relaxed recently so that if either the man or the woman in the marriage is an only child, they are allowed a second, penalty free.
This unique policy in the world’s largest populated country has not only helped take tens of millions out of poverty, but it also has created a sort of “me” culture. Most young adults have no siblings, two parents, and four grandparents — called the 4-2-1 ratio. It’s a ratio automatically setup for lots of doting.
Ms S related that that even though her parents had to split their resources to support two children, she was happy to have had less than her friends in school because the richness of having a sibling was (and is) greater than the value of extra allotment.
I work with another Chinese woman, Ms C, who has a three-year old daughter. She very much wants another child but her husband is adamantly against a second, even though they could without penalty. Her husband wants the resources, including, he says, all his love, to be dedicated to one child only, not split to two.
On the flip side, I met a guy visiting on business this past week from Romania who is one of 15 children. He has seven children himself and said that the average among his other sibling’s children is five per, and they are far from finished. Large families tend to breed large families, at least until common sense prevails. My mother was one of eight children and she had seven. Several of her children continued the breeding spree and ended up with large families.
It’s not a scientific notion that a smaller family size raises overall quality of life for those involved. In large part, successful efforts at reducing family size is the reason that millions in several South East Asia countries have risen out of poverty over the past few decades.
Melinda Gates, a practicing Catholic, makes a case here that the need to discuss family planning and the use contraceptives is not about religion. Hans Rosling, a data visionary speaking at a TED conference in Qatar to an Arab audience makes a similar compelling case here, in a different way.
In large parts the world, including the USA, family size has come down dramatically over the last few decades, as the baby boomer generation makes its way to retirement. In Thailand, with grassroots efforts, population rates have decreased from an average of seven children per family a few decades ago to an average of two today.
As I was discussing the one-child policy with Ms B last week, she said she was against it because she felt so lucky to have a sister. She experienced first-hand the sense of entitlement her friends in school have had. She said her schoolmates were “amazed” at the way she shared, as they didn’t have the same sharing impulse. As she was telling me her encounters with entitlement, I couldn’t help but think that having siblings, however rich an experience, doesn’t preclude that some will not harness that sense, (as I recently found out).
Nevertheless, the nostalgia of a large family is not reason enough to continue unabated reproduction. There are broader implications, for the individuals, the family, the society, and the planet.
Although still growing, the UN tells us that the world population, with additional successful coaxing of family size moderation, will level off somewhere around 10 billion.
Even with an abundance of wealth, the planet simply would not sustain continued liberal reproduction. A one-child policy may be extreme, but a family size mindset of less is more has proven more beneficial on both a micro and macro level.
We all march off the cliff leaving (an average of) one behind. That’s fair, reasonable, and logical. More than that and we would not doing ourselves, or those we leave behind, any favors.