China’s somewhat drastic imposition of its One Child Policy (OCP) – which was brought in to control the country’s ever-increasing population problem – is thought to have had some serious effects on the characteristics of its people, making them less competitive, less trustworthy and overall less conscientious.
The finding comes from research carried out and published in Science by Professors Lisa Cameron and Lata Gangadharan from Monash University, Professor Xin Meng from the Australian National University (ANU) and Associate Professor Nisvan Erkal from the University of Melbourne.
They compared the behaviors of Chinese individuals born before and after the OCP was adopted by conducting an array of economic games and analyzing the results. The OCP allowed the researchers to isolate people who grew up as only-children but would have had siblings if the policy change had not been introduced. A little over 400 individuals were included.
Significant differences found in behavioral characteristics
Through making extensive comparisons between the two groups they were able to isolate the effect that being brought up as a single child has on overall behavior. Results showed that individuals who were born after the OCP – as an only child – demonstrated characteristics of being less competitive, more risk averse, less conscientious, less trustworthy and more pessimistic.
According to Professor Cameron, of the Monash Centre for Development Economics, the effects were apparent regardless of how much contact the subjects had with other children, such as their social peers:
“We found that greater exposure to other children in childhood for example, frequent interactions with cousins and/or attending childcare was not a substitute for having siblings. There is some evidence that parents can influence their children’s behavior by encouraging pro-social values.”
They considered a whole range of different factors that could have influenced the results, such as differences in the era that the participants were born, and age, although they conclude that the differences ultimately is best explained as being a result of the OCP.
Decline in entrepreneurial thinking
The economic implications were explored by Professor Cameron:
“Our data show that people born under the One Child Policy were less likely to be in more risky occupations like self-employment. Thus there may be implications for China in terms of a decline in entrepreneurial ability,”
The OCP – limiting one child per family – was introduced in 1979 as a means of alleviating the social and economic difficulties that China was experiencing. As a result, since its introduction, around 400 million births have been prevented.
In 2007 over 30 delegates at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference called for it to be completely abolished, blaming it for causing social problems and personality disorders in young people. Yet, behavioral changes aren’t the only problems associated with the OCP that worry politicians – also the increasing disparity in the birth ratio between boys and girls, which is proving to be the most critical demographic problem the country has ever had.
It’s been reported that this radical means of population control is going to have to be reviewed by Chinese officials, considering the growing number of problems that have been associated with its introduction.
Written by Joseph Nordqvist
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