Where people are moving to and from
The map above comes from Atlas Van Lines and shows where their customers were headed last year. Most states had a steady balance of people coming and going, but the blue ones below are where the movement was mostly inbound and the yellow ones show states that were losing people faster than they were gaining them.
Chen Xi once saw the one-child policy as a brick wall, unyielding and inevitable. Now she considers it a nuisance.
The turning point came in November when, just as she began the fifth month of her pregnancy, Beijing announced a big change to the contentious policy, allowing couples to have two children if one parent is an only child. Chen, a 28-year-old employee at a state-owned enterprise, should qualify – her husband does have siblings, but she does not.
Yet her hopes may be dashed: although she is pregnant with her first child, she lives with her husband’s 16-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, and family planning officials may consider the teenager her own.
As Chen fruitlessly searched the internet for details, her emotions turned from hope, to confusion, to anger – first at the lack of information, then at the policy as a whole. “This policy has so many downsides – it violates natural law, it makes kids spoilt and thankless,” she said. “Sooner or later, they’re going to have to give it up. It’s really just a matter of time.”
Chen is not alone. While experts doubt the relaxation will deliver a baby boom, they say it has delivered something else entirely: a paradigm shift for many Chinese people who, over three decades, have grown numb to the government’s role in their reproductive affairs.
The policy’s pitfalls are common knowledge: it has engendered an economically perilous demographic crunch and human rights abuses such as forced late-term abortions, abducted infants and the use of violence to collect fines.
Yet “resistance against the policy has never really been that strong”, said Wang Feng, an expert on China’s demographics at the University of California, Irvine. “That’s why I think this top-down change – when the government says ‘now the policy has outlived its use and needs to be changed’ – that actually triggers a change in thinking.”
Five years ago, Wang estimated, only three out of 10 Chinese people were adamant that the policy should be scrapped. “Now, with the announcement of this change, it may not be an exaggeration to see a shift to the other way around. Maybe nine out of 10 would say it’s about time to get rid of this.”
Last week, the wealthy coastal province of Zhejiang became the first to sign the revision into law. Hubei in central China and Guangxi in the south could follow suit by March, state media say.
Authorities say the policy has prevented 400m births since its implementation in the late 1970s. For evidence, they often point to UN estimates that the country’s birthrate has dropped from 4.77 births per woman in the 1970s to 1.64 in 2011. Yet experts have called the figure into question. China’s greatest fertility drop-off occurred in the decade before the policy was introduced, they say; its continuing decline mirrors that of other developing nations.
China already allows many people to have two children, such as couples who are both only children, and ethnic minorities.
Yet many of these families refrain, unwilling to bear the economic cost of a second child. Since the early 1990s, “there’s been no tightening up of the policy, but the fertility rate continues to decline”, said Zuo Xuejin, an executive vice-president at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. “So the basic driver for declined fertility is socioeconomic change.”
If China’s demographic trends hold, the country will probably scrap the policy by 2020, according to Zuo. “By 2025, the government will be encouraging people to have more children.”
Yet the policy will almost certainly continue to have a hold on people for years, experts say, for reasons that have little to do with demographics. For leading officials, backtracking on a three-decade-old policy would entail an intolerable loss of face. The country’s sprawling family planning bureaucracy, which levies more than £1bn annually in fines, is too deeply entrenched to suddenly dismantle.
“At the same time as China announces this policy change, it says the government will continue to put population control as its main mission,” said Cai Yong, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “You see a contradiction right there.”
Chen is still waiting for details on her eligibility, and probably won’t find answers until Beijing formally legislates. She badly wants a second child, unlike many of her colleagues. “If my child doesn’t have any siblings, she’ll grow up very lonely,” she said. If she finds out it is illegal, she will book a flight to the US and hopefully give birth there, granting her child foreign citizenship.
“Before, most people would go to Canada, but some policies changed, so people don’t go there any more,” she said. “Going to America is really popular. If that’s what it takes, that’s what I’ll do.”
As the population grays, Americans stay upbeat
BY RAKESH KOCHHARLEAVE A COMMENT
One-in-five Americans are expected to be 65 and older by mid-century, and this could be a problem for the country. There is worry that government and household finances may be pushed to the brink by rising pension and health care expenditures. Economic growth, we are warned, might suffer with fewer workers and more retirees. But what does the public think?
It may come as a surprise that the American public is pretty optimistic. In a Pew Research Center survey, only about one-in-four Americans say the growing number of older people is a major problem for the country, nearly two-thirds are confident they will have an adequate standard of living in their old age, and almost one-half say that individuals are primarily responsible for their own economic well-being as they get older.
These opinions differ sharply from public opinion in most of the 20 other countries that we surveyed. Americans are among the least likely to view aging as a major problem; they are more confident than most of their old-age economic well-being; and they are one of few to express in plurality that individuals are primarily responsible for their own well-being in old age.
Why are Americans so confident? And is there a gap between demographic reality and U.S. public opinion? It is hard to be sure, but the views of the American public are consistent with demographic projections. On two major counts—population growth and population aging—the future for the U.S. is robust compared with other countries.
Take population growth. Yes, the U.S. population is expected to grow more slowly in the future—at 0.6% annually from 2010 to 2050 compared with 1.1% annually from 1950 to 2010. But this still amounts to an addition of 89 million people, among the largest gains globally. And the U.S. population should grow much faster than the populations of its major partners (or rivals), such as Germany, Britain, Japan, South Korea and China.
Americans may have another reason to feel more confident than others about their demographic future: the U.S. is aging at a comparatively slow pace. The median age in the U.S. is expected to increase from 37 in 2010 to 41 in 2050. Meanwhile, a greater increaseis expected globally, from 29 to 36, and most people in South Korea, Japan and Germany are expected to be older than 50 by mid-century.
But the U.S. population is still aging, right? Does that raise no concerns?
It is possible the public has heard the alarm bell but believes that corrections will be made. Although it is difficult to anticipate the choices individuals might make in the future, Americans may plan to boost their retirement savings. And family structures may be evolving to adapt to the needs of the elderly, perhaps through growing numbers ofmulti-generational households.
The future state of public expenditures also need not be gloomy. The principal driver of health care expenditures is cost inflation and reining that would significantly brighten the long-run outlook for Medicare and Medicaid. The Congressional Budget Office has alsoestimated that gradually raising the full retirement age for Social Security to 70 for people born in 1973 or later (it is currently at 67 for people born in 1960 or later) would reduce federal outlays on the program.
When it comes to the workforce, the elderly are already showing signs of greater activity. The labor force participation rate among those 65 and older has nearly doubled since 1985. With people living longer and healthier lives, we may continue to see more elderly workers choosing to delay retirement in the coming decades.
Economists have also noted that modest gains in productivity, through innovation, capital investment or a more educated workforce, may counter the effects of an aging workforce. Immigration may also be used to boost the size of the workforce.
All this is not to say that population aging presents no challenges. A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences posits that “Population aging will have profound fiscal effects as well as effects on the broader economy.” But the same study concludes that “[aging does not present]…insurmountable challenges for the United States…An aging society need not have lower living standards, slower growth in innovation and productivity, or inefficiently high tax rates.” The American public, for now, is a believer in the positive.