The Effect and Impacts of China One-Child Policy on Chinese Culture and Family

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The Chinese population control strategy of one-child per couple is among the many dramatic population control programs in the world. The policy consists of regulations that govern approved size of Chinese families through restrictions on childbearing and spacing of kids in case a second child is allowable. The plan has been successfully executed in China and has resulted in a significant drop in the nation’s population growth rate. However, much of the outcomes that were not anticipated and those that were expected have received much attention as they have direct and indirect effects on Chinese families and culture at large. Therefore, the paper presents the effect and impacts posed by the Chinese culture and families by the China one-child policy.

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Widening Imbalance between Gender

Over the decades, Chinese couples have preferred male children over the females since the sons carry on the family name. The one-child policy has, therefore, resulted in a significantly skewed ratio of men to women as couples strive to get sons due to the limitation on childbearing. Besides, most urban couples decide to do sex-selection when deciding to get a child in attempts to get a son. In rural regions, the majority of couples have an allowance to have a second child especially when the firstborn is a daughter. When a subsequent pregnancy consists of a female, the baby is usually aborted to enable the couple to have a male child. Additionally, female babies are in most cases abandoned or unregistered, thus keeping the number of men higher than that of women.

Enhanced Gender Equality

Traditionally, the Chinese culture places great value on males than on women. Sons are perceived as labors for the family, support for the old generation, and responsible for continuing the family line (Sudbeck, 2012). However, the implementation of the policy lowered the traditional preference for sons in the family. Women’s status, therefore, improved since female children started to play other significant roles in the family and received more education and attention than before. Moreover, the enhanced education for women resulted in women participating in more non-traditional occupations for women, leading to gender equality in the family and in society at large. The one-child policy has, therefore, liberated women from the numerous cultural traits that initially impeded women’s economic potential.

Furthermore, the spread of childbearing limits and late marriages resulted in women focusing on education and careers before they become mothers and wives. Also, the patrilineal culture where wealth and property are passed through the male side of the family became weak as parents started to provide equal investments and aspirations in their daughters. Therefore, in most regions especially in urban areas, there is no longer the perpetuation of the belief that male children are more valuable than the females (Fung, 2014).

Changes in Gender Roles

In typical Chinese family structures, the elderly parents were taken care of by their adult sons and their wives. They all lived together, and the sons provided finances by working outside the home. The wives usually stayed at home to do household chores and taking care of the elderly. However, the one-child policy changed the gender roles, especially where the child was a female. Both women and men are now expected to work outside the home to attain financial benefits. As a result, women now provide for their elderly parents. Essentially, daughters are retaining strong links with their biological parents after marriage to support them. Fundamentally, females have been able to transcend gender norms as a result of being a single child with no brothers.

Changes in Family and Kinship Structure

The one-child rule led to the emergence of nuclear families and loosening of the kinship network (Kwok-Bun, 2013). The structure of the family has changed to a 4-2-1 type of structure where the family has four grandparents, two parents, and one child. Besides, the average household size has declined due to the decrease in fertility rate. Moreover, the formation patterns of families have changed as both women and men want to establish themselves in labor markets before founding a family. Consequently, the age of mothers at first childbirth has increased in addition to the limitation of only one child. Thus, compared to previous family structures, the current family structures have more grandparents and fewer children.

The limitation to a single child has made it irrelevant to consider the younger or older partition in the family. As a result, the fundamental kin component has been reduced. Additionally, the lack of siblings has led to the disappearance of extension of any lateral kin and their extensions established by compounding over generations.  

Increased Od-Age Dependency

Parental support is a moral obligation in Chinese culture. However, the rapid decline in birth rate has resulted in an increased percentage of the elderly. Consequently, the ration between elderly parents and adult children has increased. Furthermore, the family functions as the primary support for older members, particularly in rural settings. The lack of full pensions makes the elderly to rely on the younger generation’s financial help. Caring for the elderly has thus become a challenge due to the shortage of younger relatives. One child can not sufficiently provide financial support for their grandparents and parents.

Extinction of Cultural Variety

Since the enactment of the program, China’s fertility rate has deeply declined. The decrease in fertility dramatically affects small ethnic groups. Even though families from endangered, small ethnic communities in remote areas are allowed to have more than one children. However, lack of social welfare for these communities especially those located in rural areas hinders their growth. As a consequence, population decline becomes worse for such groups which put them at the risk of extinction (Jiang, Li & Feldman, 2013).

Impact on Marriage

The policy of having only one child has had some effects on divorce rates. Being permitted to have only one child has made young couples to be on the loose from the burdens of child-rearing and additional childbearing. Besides, couples have been allowed to devote more time and energy to pursue their careers and occupations. Furthermore, in urban areas, the bonds of marriage have become loose. When a conflict emerges between husbands and wives, divorce becomes a quick option, and couples feel free to go their own ways as they can support themselves due to the lack of the responsibility for children (Xia, Wang, Do & Qin, 2014).

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The marriage institution established by the policy of one-child has enabled ladies to attain various benefits. Similar to the past, it is expected that grooms provide marital housing and other material things. The capability to accomplish the expectations remains a vital factor of men to win brides. Therefore, sons and their parents must try to afford new housing by the time the sons decide to marry. On the other hand, daughters and their parents consider the ability to contribute to or provide marital house a bonus for enhancing the daughters’ marriageability and comfort, rather than an obligation. Singleton daughters and their parents view the circumstance as a benefit since the parents can use their savings to educate the daughters rather than saving to acquire marital dwelling. Therefore, the requirement to buy a house to entice a wife has become a challenge for men. Besides, it is difficult for men to obtain brides who are in the same socioeconomic status as them.


The one-child policy for controlling population in China became successful but result in various effects and impacts to the Chinese culture and families. The main impact is that it led to the widening imbalance between genders. The policy resulted in a significantly skewed ratio of men to women as couples strive to get sons due to the traditional preference for sons over daughters. However, the policy resulted in enhanced gender equality. The traditional belief that boys are more important than girls has ceased to be predominant, thus, liberating women from cultural norms that initially impeded women’s economic potential. The policy also resulted in changes in gender roles since singleton daughters have been able to transcend gender norms. Moreover, changes in family and kinship structures have taken place as most families now have a structure of 4-2-1, an aspect that has also increased old age dependency. Cultural diversity has declined due to the decline in fertility rate. Marriage has also been impacted as divorce rates have increased, and it is hard for the men to find brides of their same socioeconomic status.

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  1. Fung, E. (2014). The Rise of Women in China and the One Child Policy. Tcnj Journal of Student Scholarship, 16, 1-6.
  2. Jiang, Q., Li, S., & Feldman, M. (2013). China’s Population Policy at the Crossroads: Social Impacts and Prospects. Asian Journal of Social Science41(2), 193-218.
  3. Kwok-Bun, C. (2013). International Handbook of Chinese Families. New York: Springer.
  4. Sudbeck, K. (2012). The Effects of China’s One-Child Policy: The Significance for Chinese Women. Nebraska Anthropologist, 43-60.
  5. Xia, Y., Wang, H., Do, A. & Qin, S. (2014). Family Policy in China: A Snapshot of 1950–2010. 257-269.
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