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Lack of elderly care, 'little emperor syndrome,' behind China abandoning one-child policy, researcher says

Thursday, October 29, 2015

LAWRENCE — Chinese state media announced this week all couples would be allowed to have two children, signaling an official abandonment of the country's controversial 35-year-old, one-child policy.

A University of Kansas researcher of Chinese policy and society said the change has occurred gradually over the past five or six years and the shift has both social and economic implications.

John Kennedy, associate professor of political science and director of KU's Center for Global and International Studies, is available to comment on the one-child policy, family planning in China and issues with the country's census data and demographics.

Kennedy said there have been certain loopholes — particularly in rural China — in recent years for couples to have more than one child, but the one-child policy has likely created an imbalance, leaving fewer younger people to take care of the elderly.

"One of the consequences of this policy is that as life expectancy has been increasing, there are greater numbers of elderly people in China and fewer children to take care of them," he said. "What's really driving this change is the need for a population to be able to take care of the elderly population and also to make sure they a strong workforce in the future."

Additionally, increasing the one-child limit could address what is know as "little emperor syndrome" in Chinese cities where there are six adults — two sets of grandparents and two parents — to take care of one child.

The Chinese government is also likely seeking to address the argument that the one-child policy has slanted its population to include a disproportionate number of men to women. Kennedy, as part of a current project, is examining China's demographic data to address the issue of "missing girls" in China and considering the possibility that many girls born in China are not officially registering in census data, which could skewer the nation's sex ratio at birth.

Kennedy served as president of the Association of Chinese Political Studies from 2012-2014, and he consistently returns to China to conduct research on rural politics since 1995.

To arrange an interview with Kennedy, contact George Diepenbrock at gdiepenbrock@ku.edu or 785-864-8853.