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More and more research underlines the large health and economic benefits of investing in family planning for the women users, their families, and the societies in which they live. Yet global efforts to increase access have been impacted by some major policy shifts. CGD looks at how to optimize efforts to reach more women, faster and more effectively, and how to expand contraceptive access and education in a tougher international political climate. We also study the nature of the link between family planning access and female empowerment: Is it correlation or causation?
Jeremy Gaines, Center for Global Development, email@example.com
Colin Bowyer, Stanford University firstname.lastname@example.org
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 https://www.cgdev.org/publication/limits-and-human-costs-population-policy-fertility-decline-and-sex-selection-china.
Most of China’s fertility decline predates the famous One Child Policy—and instead occurred under its predecessor, the Later, Longer, Fewer (LLF) policy. Studying LLF’s contribution to fertility and sex selection behavior, we find that it i) reduced China’s total fertility rate by 0.9 births per woman (explaining 28% of China’s modern fertility decline), ii) doubled the use of male-biased fertility stopping rules, and iii) promoted postnatal neglect (implying 210,000 previously unrecognized missing girls). Considering Chinese population policy to be extreme in global experience, our paper demonstrates the limits of population policy—and its potential human costs.
The international family planning community has made impressive gains in increasing global access to high-quality, voluntary family planning services. However, significant challenges remain with maintaining current support and meeting the growing need projected for family planning services and commodities across low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
On International Women’s Day it is right to celebrate the huge advances in women’s rights during our own lifetimes. In almost every country in the world, women are closer to achieving equality in economic and social activity. However, even as we celebrate progress, we cannot lose sight of the road still to travel.