Has the Chinese Birth Planning Program Been Successful in Changing Fertility Preferences? Evidence from Linked Records in Four Counties in Rural Northern China

Merli, M. Giovanna, and Herbert L. Smith
Working paper no. 2000-14


The success of the Chinese One-Child policy and its rural adaptations in changing reproductive behavior and bringing about a dramatic fertility decline is unquestionable. However, an important but as yet unanswered question is the extent to which the strict implementation of such policies over the past two decades has been successful in changing fertility preferences. Using data from two overlapping surveys conducted in four counties of rural China in 1991 and 1994, we assess the validity of fertility preferences against subsequent reproductive behavior and explore the conditions under which the move towards wanting no more children occurs. Our results suggest that the acceptance of policy-sanctioned family size partly follows the development gradient and partly reflects the degree of policy enforcement. High acceptance occurs in the most urban and industrialized county and in the county with the most rigid family planning program. Conversely, acceptance is weak among women living in the poorest county and in the county where policy enforcement is most lenient and flexible. These findings have important implications for the future of Chinese fertility in the absence of strict policies and their enforcement.