Press Release

New Study Finds China’s Population Control Policies Before the One Child Policy were Responsible for 200,000 “Missing Girls”

March 21, 2019
Jeremy Gaines, Center for Global Development, [email protected]
Colin Bowyer, Stanford University [email protected]

Stanford, CA – An estimated 210,000 girls may have “gone missing” due to China’s “Later, Longer, Fewer” campaign, a birth planning policy predating the One Child Policy, according to a new study from the Center for Global Development. The study looked at hundreds of thousands of births occurring before and during the “Later, Longer, Fewer” policy to measure its effect on marriage, fertility, and sex selection behavior.

The researchers found that China’s “Longer, Later, Fewer” population control policy—which began in the 1970s and preceded China’s One-Child Policy—reduced total fertility rates by 0.9 births per woman and was directly responsible for an estimated 210,000 missing girls countrywide. Importantly, the study emphasizes that because this policy existed before ultrasound technology was widely available—and therefore before selective abortion was an option—these missing girls must have been due to postnatal neglect of infant girls, or in the extreme, infanticide. The phenomenon of “missing girls” widely recognized in later years under the One Child Policy is largely thought due to sex-selective abortion after ultrasound technology spread across China.

“Prior research has shown that sex ratios rose dramatically under China's One-Child Policy, leading to stark imbalances in the numbers of men and women. But we’re finding that girls went missing earlier than previously thought, which can in part be directly attributed to the birth planning policy that predates the One-Child Policy.” said Grant Miller, Director of the Stanford Center on Global Poverty and Development, a Non-Resident Fellow at the Center for Global Development, and one of the authors of the study.

The top findings of the study include:

  • The birth planning policy reduced fertility by 0.9 births per woman, explaining 28% of the overall decline during this period.

  • The Later, Longer, Fewer policy is responsible for a roughly twofold increase in the use of “fertility stopping rules,” the practice of continuing to have children until the desired number of sons is achieved.

  • The Later, Longer, Fewer policy is also responsible for an increase in postnatal neglect, from none to 0.3% of all female births in China during this period.

  • Sex selection behavior was concentrated among couples with the highest demand for sons (couples that have more children but no sons), with sex ratios reaching 117 males per 100 female births among these couples.

“Population control strategies can have unforeseen consequences and human costs,” Miller said. “At the same time, as China debates the future of birth planning policies, it’s also important to note that family planning policy does not appear to be the largest driver of fertility.”

You can read the full study at /publication/limits-and-human-costs-population-policy-fertility-decline-and-sex-selection-china.