China has long recognized the dangers of overpopulation and introduced the One Child Policy a few decades ago. Until it was recently cancelled it (arguably) prevented hundreds of millions of new births, which greatly helped China in managing its population growth.

But why don't other countries follow the same policy? Wouldn't India or Bangladesh benefit from reducing the birh rate?

  • 4
    Introducing such a law would be political suicide in a democracy like India.
    – Cyrus
    Commented May 10, 2017 at 7:39
  • It's generally impossible to prove why something didn't happen. If some other countries proposed or debates these kinds of policies, there may be public statements about it, but otherwise I'm not sure how it could be answered well. Commented May 11, 2017 at 14:16
  • 3
    Because 1) Lots of people don't believe in the dangers of overpopulation. (Or AGW, vaccinations, lunar landings....) 2) For a lot of people, having kids, often lots of them, is deeply connected to their sense of self-worth.
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 11, 2017 at 17:46
  • greatly helped China in managing its population growth. China's population now has a large discrepancy in the male/female ratio of its younger population. They now have a large issue with its younger generation not wanting to have children of their own. China's policy may actually result in a population crash. Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 20:50
  • @MichaelRichardson the male/female ratio doesn't seem to be causing any problems for them: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/78297/…. The low birth rates are a problem but the same issue is present in South Korea which didn't have a one-child policy. Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 20:54

2 Answers 2


It's an interesting question, and there's many reasons why it hasn't been implemented in India, but it also hasn't been exactly "one child" in China. It was a one child policy for urban Han, a two child policy for rural Han, and up to three or even four for rural ethnic minorities.

From 1975 to '77 India experienced a state of emergency, which was unilaterally declared by the then prime minister Indira Ghandi. This era saw civil liberties suspended, and sterilisation forced upon a considerable number of men. In one year alone 6.2 million men were sterilised. This has left the Indian people suspicious of family planning efforts, which are further blunted by widespread female illiteracy. Nonetheless, since then, most people who volunteer for sterilisation are women. In 2014 there were 4 million sterilisations, of which less than 100,000 of them were for men.

Until the 70s India often experienced famine. So the Indian government was as much concerned with the food supply as the number of pregnancies, and took measures to deal with both problems. During this decade there was a "Green Revolution" in the subcontinent, pioneered in part by Norman Borlaung, an American biologist. He helped by introducing famine-resistant high-yield crop varieties to India, Pakistan, and Mexico. This revolution saw the introduction of agricultural financing, mechanisation, pesticides, chemical fertilisers, and new crop varieties, which together mean that there hasn't been famine in India since, and food security is no longer an emergency issue.

India's fertility rate has also fallen from 5.9 in 1951 to 2.3 in 2011. This is because of many important factors, such as rising literacy, economic growth, higher education, women choosing to delay marriage/pregnancy, and sterilisations.

There has also been a problem with infanticide in China and India, where female foetuses are aborted. A one child policy in India would further exacerbate this problem, given the cultural preference for boys. This makes the prospect even less palatable for Indians.

Right now a one child policy wouldn't be justified, and given the lack of famines on the horizon it isn't a priority. When half of the country defecate in the open, one of prime minister Modi's biggest challenges is to improve sanitation by building "toilets before temples". A controversial phrase to be uttered by a Hindu nationalist. But it shows that as India's fertility rate falls, and food production is sufficient, there is no need for a one child policy. There is however, amongst other things, a need for a one toilet policy.

More generally, fertility rates have been falling across the world - both in developed countries, and importantly in developing countries too, sometimes with incredible speed. Consider this 2009 article from The Economist:

Fertility is falling and families are shrinking in places— such as Brazil, Indonesia, and even parts of India—that people think of as teeming with children. As our briefing shows, the fertility rate of half the world is now 2.1 or less—the magic number that is consistent with a stable population and is usually called “the replacement rate of fertility”. Sometime between 2020 and 2050 the world's fertility rate will fall below the global replacement rate


Today's fall in fertility is both very large and very fast. Poor countries are racing through the same demographic transition as rich ones, starting at an earlier stage of development and moving more quickly. The transition from a rate of five to that of two, which took 130 years to happen in Britain—from 1800 to 1930—took just 20 years—from 1965 to 1985—in South Korea. Mothers in developing countries today can expect to have three children. Their mothers had six. In some countries the speed of decline in the fertility rate has been astonishing. In Iran, it dropped from seven in 1984 to 1.9 in 2006—and to just 1.5 in Tehran. That is about as fast as social change can happen

Consequently, there isn't an immediate need for emergency measures. That however may change if the future food supply is strained, and we return to concerns over a Malthusian trap.


Although reducing the birth rate in such a restrictive way seems a great solution, it has a number of drawbacks.

First and foremost, in many societies, boys and girls are not the same. Girls can be a liability (you have to marry them off, pay a dowry) whereas boys are an asset (they carry on the family name, inherit property). So what happens if a woman gets pregnant with her only allowed child and it is a girl? Either she terminates the pregnancy or she gives the child up for adoption, which can lead to a surplus of men

Bear in mind this is may not just be a result of one-child policy, but of restricting the number of children in general as this article argues.

I have been looking into international adoption for years, and under the one-child policy, adoption from China meant you would adopt a girl.

Apart from that, having children is perceived as a very basic human right (tightly or not, that is another discussion). Limiting this right in a very strong way is not likely to be a very popular action, so, as Cyrus mentioned in his comment, it won't bode well for a party in any democracy to propose this.

Finally, there are other effective ways of reducing population growth. In some Western countries, net growth is negative. It seems there is a correlation between education and wealth, and between wealth and family size. Thus education and economical growth seem to have an influence on population growth as this article claims.

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