Volume 37 - Article 30 | Pages 929–956 Author has provided data and code for replicating results

Too early or too late: What have we learned from the 30-year two-child policy experiment in Yicheng, China?

By Yu Qin, Fei Wang

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Date received:08 Mar 2017
Date published:06 Oct 2017
Word count:7288
Keywords:birth rate, China, two-children policy
Additional files:readme.37-30 (text file, 434 Byte)
 demographic-research.37-30 (zip file, 187 kB)


Background: In January 2016, China ended its 35-year-old one-child policy and replaced it with a nationwide two-child policy. However, it remains unclear whether a two-child policy can effectively increase the fertility level in China.

Objective: We reviewed the 30-year (1985–2015) two-child policy experiment carried out in Yicheng, a county in the Shanxi province of China, to assess the impact of this policy on the crude birth rate, as compared with the one-child policy implemented in most other places in Shanxi.

Methods: We adopted a synthetic control approach. Using this method, we constructed a synthetic county using counties in Shanxi that were subject to the one-child policy. The synthetic county had similar observed characteristics to Yicheng before the launch of Yicheng’s two-child policy experiment in 1985. Therefore, birth rate differences between Yicheng and the synthetic county after 1985 could be attributed only to the two-child policy.

Results: We did not find any short-term impacts of the two-child policy on the Yicheng birth rate prior to the 1990s. We estimated that the two-child policy, in the long run, would lead to a maximum of two more births per 1,000 people every year in Yicheng, compared with similar areas that had a one-child policy.

Conclusions: The two-child policy was not found to boost the birth rate in Yicheng and similar places.

Contribution: The study identified the causal effect of a two-child policy, and was more methodologically reliable than related studies that primarily explored statistical correlations.

Author's Affiliation

Yu Qin - National University of Singapore, Singapore [Email]
Fei Wang - Renmin University of China, China [Email]

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