China’s rich cultural heritage, deeply rooted in Confucianism, has traditionally defined women’s roles as submissive, tasked with the responsibilities of procreation, childcare, and support for husbands and parents.
However, a seismic shift is underway as women reject these traditional expectations, choosing to avoid marriage and motherhood.
At the heart of this social transformation lies a concerning reality: if this trend persists, China’s current population of 1.4 billion is projected to plummet to a mere 500 million by 2100, according to recent projections.
To put this into perspective, if China maintains this pace and the United States, with its current population of 341 million, continues its population growth of 0.54% per year, the U.S. population will surpass China’s by 2100.
This steep demographic decline raises crucial questions about the sustainability of China’s future, with significant impacts on other nations.
An interesting linguistic dynamic adds a worrisome element to this narrative. Evidenced by the expression of women’s “obligation” to have children, the very word for “good” (好) is formed by combining the characters for woman 女 and child 子. This vividly underscores the cultural pressure imposed on women to fulfill this predetermined role.
Analyses of population stability typically cite the benchmark of 2.1 children per woman. However, this number assumes an equal gender ratio, a luxury that China does not possess. The remnants of the one-child policy, marked by a significant surplus of men—roughly 100 million more than women—create a unique challenge. Adjusting for this gender disparity, women in China would need to have considerably more than 2.1 children to maintain population stability. However, the current birth rate approaches 1, signaling a brutal demographic decline.
China stands on the verge of a demographic collapse, with a cascade of consequences poised to reshape the nation. Labor shortages, pension deficits, and even social unrest may be on the horizon. The burden on the healthcare system increases as an aging population demands more care, straining resources and infrastructure.
The solution to this problem lies in changing cultural norms and the government narrative, which perpetuates the submission of women and merely demands that they have more children. If China wishes to reverse its demographic decline, it must initiate a fundamental shift in cultural norms: educating boys differently, fostering respect for women as equals, sharing responsibilities for childcare and eldercare, and dismantling discriminatory practices would yield more impactful results.
Population decline has implications not only for China but also for exporting countries like Brazil, Australia, and Argentina, which may face significant changes in trade with China.
China is acknowledged as the world’s largest food importer, while it’s also the largest food producer, relying on imports only to supplement its needs. With a demographic decline over the coming decades, it could undergo a major shift in this scenario.
China might not only cease to be the largest importer but could become a net exporter of food, especially to neighboring nations that continue to experience population growth and, consequently, an increased demand for food.
This transformation could have significant implications for countries like Brazil, whose economy is heavily influenced by the agro-industrial sector, necessitating careful consideration of long-term economic strategies.
China’s journey towards a demographic crisis is not inevitable but demands a bold course correction. Apologizing to women who endured the inhumane consequences of the one-child policy is a moral imperative but is not enough. This apology must not only involve words, but also effective actions to correct injustices and improve the status of women in society.
China must end discriminatory workplace practices, ensure equitable parental leave, and provide access to affordable childcare. Perhaps most importantly, it needs to convey to Chinese men that women are not merely there to have children and serve them.
By dismantling outdated cultural expectations and fostering an environment that values women’s autonomy, China can confront its demographic challenges with resilience and inclusivity.