China’s One Child Policy: Birth Rate Decline and the Rise of Childfree Couples

A growing number of “Double Income, No Kids” family, or DINKS for short, casts an uncertain future on China’s economy.  China’s fertility rate hitting a record low of 6.77 births per 1,000 people in 2022.

After being overtaken by India, China has lost its place as the world’s most populous country. China’s population has shrunk for the first time since the 60s because more couples see having children as a gamble.

Double income, no kids or, as they are known, DINKS are couples who live on dual incomes but opt not to have children to not interfere with their quality of life. They claim that caring for children is expensive, and they would instead use the money for shopping or traveling.

According to Chinese sociologist Shouting Lu, the latest census data indicate that there are around 188 million DINKS families in China, and the number keeps growing. This is cited as a significant factor in the country’s shrinking population.

The rise in DINKS is controversial because, in Chinese traditions, keeping the lineage is very important, and being married and opting not to have kids is considered taboo. Children are also recommended because they are expected to care for their parents in their old age.

Reasons for the growing number of DINKS in China

Despite the incentives offered by the government, the number of married couples opting not to have children will likely remain the same. Some of the reasons given for not wanting kids include:

How did China get here?

China’s central government introduced the one-child policy in the late 70s and early 80s to curb the exploding population in the country. This policy limited families to having one child.

To implement the policy, China promoted the use of family planning and birth control. These methods were effective in staling the country’s population in the mid-1990s. Families whose firstborns were deformed were allowed to have another child.

One significant consequence of the one-child policy was that the country had around 4% more men than women. Chinese tradition values male children more than female babies. Parents would often abort the fetuses of female children because they were less desirable and keep the male ones. In most cases, female children were taken to orphanages and adopted by a couple from Europe and the USA. In severe cases, girls were abandoned, or some families practised infanticide of baby girls.

Other consequences include a lack of marriage partners due to the low number of females available for marriage. The older generation, who had relied on the younger ones for care, had no one to take care of them.

Beijing’s efforts to increase birth rates 

China had the lowest birth rate in 2022, with 6.77 births per 1,000 people, down from 7.52 births the previous year. This has made some provinces introduce new measures to boost birth rates.

In Sichuan, unmarried couples can raise a family and enjoy the same benefits as married couples. In the past single women were banned from registering for births. They are also encouraging sperm donation. Authorities also announced that couples can have as many children as they want.

Other incentives by local governments to increase birth rates include tax reductions for parents, longer maternity leaves and housing subsidies.

End of the one-child policy

In late 2015, the government officially ended the one-child policy, and families were allowed to have two children, but this did not make much difference as couples shied away from having a second child for fear that they might not be able to afford another child and the lack of an established system to sustain that.

In 2021, the government announced that couples were allowed to have up to three children to avert the looming economic crisis fuelled by an aging population, low birth rates, and a shrinking workforce.

Main photo: A three-generation family on a scooter on a street of Shanghai By Jakub Hałun - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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